Education Minister Josef Dobeš is under pressure to resign over irregularities in EU-funded projects. Brussels announced a day earlier that the Czech Education Ministry may see its EU funding suspended over irregularities in public procurement. Auditors from Brussels have advised suspending all further payments from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme until the matter is cleared up. EU funding at the ministry has been plagued by problems in recent years. On Wednesday the ministry’s fifth head of section in charge of EU funds, Robert Plaga, unexpectedly resigned after just eight working days in the post. Minister Dobeš has requested a meeting with the prime minister.
An EIA study has suggested that a planned ski resort at Hraničník in Šumava National Park would have a negative impact on the local environment. The study was commissioned by the region of South Bohemia which has gotten behind the project for the new hill. Four alternatives describing a planned chairlift, parking space, routes and ski runs have been tabled. But because the new ski hill and lift would require an extensive introduction of new infrastructure in what is a biosphere preservation area recognised by UNESCO, the EIA study suggests such a plan would be unsuitable unless it were proven to be markedly in the public interest. Among those who supported plans for a new ski hill at Hraničník was Czech President Václav Klaus, news site aktualne.cz said.
The financial daily Hospodářské noviny has reported that three former top managers at the state-run Road and Motorway Directorate – charged with corruption that cost the Czech Republic hundreds of millions of crowns – include Michal Hala as well as a former company lawyer. The daily cited anonymous sources, confirming that the men were in custody on the suspicion of property mismanagement and accepting bribes from two firms in return for cheap contracts in the lease of property (rest areas) along the D5 and D47 highways. One manager is believed to have received more than 15 million crowns; the two heads of the businesses involved have also been charged by the police. Michal Hala attracted broader attention two years ago when – on the occasion of his birthday – he threw a party for 300 guests reportedly costing 750,000 crowns.
A new poll released by the STEM agency suggests that a majority of Czechs do not think the centre-right government will be able to significantly reel in the growing state deficit. Almost 80 percent, according to the survey, are sceptical the goal can be achieved, up 20 percent from one year ago; only two percent think it can be a success. Just like last year, three-quarters of Czechs think that the increasing deficit is one of the country’s number one problems.
A boat laden with flowers and wreaths dedicated to the late ex-president Václav Havel, who died at the age of 75 after prolonged illness a fortnight ago, will launch from a pier in Prague on Saturday morning, travelling on the Vltava and Labe rivers towards Děčín, North Bohemia. The news was revealed by Sabina Tančevová, secretary to Mr Havel’s office. The idea, she said, was that of musician Michael Kocáb and visual artist David Černý. Mr Havel’s family and office staff agreed with organisers that the many flowers and wreaths brought to Mr Havel’s funeral last week could be displayed on a final journey that viewers would be able to see from the river banks. On the first day the boat will reach Mělník, north of Prague, the next will continue on to Ústí nad Labem, and on the third (January 2nd) it will dock at the final destination.
In related news, the late Václav Havel’s secretary Sabina Tančevová has revealed that his office will wrap up its final activities – which includes replying to the many condolence letters received – in the course of one month. It is unclear what will become of the interiors where Mr Havel met with guests and organised events in his final years. The office site belongs to the Schwarzenberg family; so far nothing has been changed, from the former president’s desk to bookshelves, but is unlikely to be remain ‘as is’, as the idea for the space to be turned into a kind of museum was rejected by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Mr Havel’s close friend and former aide, on the grounds that any museum would have to regularly remain open to the public, the news website idnes reported.
Police in Costa Rica are investigating the murder of a 22-year-old Czech national, killed in the province of Alajuel, near the Nicaraguan border, on Thursday. The Czech, a female, was reportedly stabbed to death on a farm that is said to help visiting students study nature. The suspect, who was apprehended by the farm’s owner, was a 20-year-old Brit the Costa Rican press said. He was found at the scene of the crime – the girl’s tent; his own was some 20 metres away. The Czech national had been in Costa Rica since December 10.
Thirty visitors, as well as staff, took refuge on the street on Friday after a fire broke out in a casino on Wenceslas Square. The fire is believed to have been caused by faulty lighting and smoke spread throughout the venue through the ventilation system. No one was hurt in the incident, a police spokeswoman said. Around ten fire vehicles arrived at the scene. Fire fighters first believed that the fire had begun in the basement. The matter was resolved in an hour.
Czech hockey star Jaromír Jágr led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4:2 win on Thursday over his former club in the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins (with whom he earned two Stanley Cup rings back in the early 1990s). The player scored what nhl.com described as a “stellar” goal against the Penguins in front of a tough and “energised” crowd. The Czech news site idnes, meanwhile, reported that Penguins fans booed the star Czech player but that Jágr joked after the game that he thought they were chanting they loved him. After scoring, the player skated to the glass where he ‘saluted’ – a famous gesture used in the past by Jágr that Penguins fans no doubt recognised.
Czech tennis players Tomáš Berdych, the men’s world no. 7 and Petr Kvitová, the women’s no.2, are readying for the prestigious Hopman Cup between nations which begins in Perth, Australia on December 31. Eight mixed-teams are competing for the title, with the Czechs beginning their tournament against Bulgaria. Ties in the tournament see one women’s singles match, one men’s, and one mixed doubles. Berdych, who won 53 of 76 matches this season, and Kvitová, who won Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, should prove a formidable challenge, the tournament’s director Paul McNamee indicated.