President Václav Klaus has given his annual New Year’s address to the nation. Mr Klaus said that a poor atmosphere in society and mutual distrust was worsening, partly due to various advocacy groups trying to acquire benefits for themselves at the expense of others. The country, he said, is unable to find political leaders because it reins in, rather than supports, those who step out of line. While noting that the Czech Republic was more stable than other countries of the EU, the president said that Czechs must fundamentally alter their approach and not increase their needs if the economy does not allow it. The coming year, he said, would not be an easy one, and the country will need further, speedy reforms to its political, economic and social system.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas praised the president’s speech for its rejection of false optimism and false promises while avoiding fear mongering over the state of the economy. Mr Nečas said he strongly agreed with Mr Klaus’ appeal for personal responsibility and call for support for the able, gifted and hard-working. Social Democratic Chairman Bohuslav Sobotka spoke against President Klaus’ criticism of advocacy groups and unfulfilled expectations from the country’s entry into the EU. Mr Sobotka said the president neglected the need for reforms to also be socially tolerable.
Three Czech citizens who were arrested in Zambia on charges of espionage have been returned home after two and a half months in captivity. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it expects their court proceedings in Zambia will continue in their and hopes their innocence will be proven. The three men were visiting the Zambian capital of Lusaka as tourists after a business trip to South Africa in October. They were arrested and charged with spying after being found to have photographed an old Czechoslovak plane displayed in front of a military base.
This year’s New Year’s Eve was calmer for police, fire and medical services, the Czech Press Agency reports. Fire services around the country received a high volume of calls - twice the average in Prague. Most fires involved rubbish bins or greenery lit by fireworks. The most serious incidents were apparently unrelated to celebrations. Police have a suspect in the shooting of two men during a fight in the northern town of Tanvald. One road accident near Trutnov left one person dead and other in serious condition. A fire near Šumperk in Moravia threatened a leak of poisonous hydrogen cyanide, but was prevented.
Beginning on New Year’s Day, doctors who find that their patients are drivers and contract an ailment that limits their ability to drive must immediately notify the relevant authorities. The Ministry of Transportation says that such drivers will either have their licences revoked immediately or will be asked to retake their examinations. Officials hope the move will decrease the number of epileptics or people with serious heart conditions behind the wheel.
In the last major commemoration of the death of former president Václav Havel, a boat laden with funerary flowers and wreaths launched from Prague on Saturday to begin a three-day trek along the Vltava and Elbe rivers. The boat left a pier near Mr Havel’s family home at Rašinovo Nábřeží in central Prague and will reach Mělník on the same day, continuing on to Ústí nad Labem and finally Děčín. The wreaths and flowers will then be thrown into the river. Václav Havel died in his sleep on the morning of December 18th after a prolonged illness. He was 75 years old.
The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reports that Brussels will give the Czech Republic one month to resolve irregularities in EU-funded education projects before it cancels the funding. An EC audit earlier this week criticised the Czech Education Ministry for using the funding for exorbitant salaries, needlessly expensive computers, favouring certain contractors and making payments that have nothing to do with the funded projects. The audit writes that the ministry lacks any system of checks, and that what checks there are, are not conducted at regular intervals.
In other bad news, preliminary police reports show there has been a large rise in road fatalities during December. Compared with 37 fatalities in November, 53 people lost their lives in traffic-related accidents in December and 200 were injured. Police investigated nearly 7000 accidents during December, most of which were caused by improper driving and speeding. Accidents involving alcohol amounted to 418.
Intrepid German revellers are continuing to buy dangerous fireworks at Vietnamese markets on the Czech border, despite numerous warnings from officials. According to the German daily Frankensteinpost, the fireworks sold at the markets are often uncertified and contain extremely volatile gunpowder. The paper writes that a police examination showed that five of the larger illicit fireworks were enough to blow up the trunk of a Volkswagen Polo. The amount of licit Vietnamese gunpowder needed to blow up the trunk of a VW Polo is yet unknown.