People in twenty Czech cities have joined the international protests against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Agreement ACTA. Critics say the treaty, which aims to establish international standards to enforce intellectual property rights, amounts to internet censorship and is in violation of privacy laws. Government websites in many countries have been hacked in protest. Although the Czech Republic signed the agreement in Tokyo in late January, its ratification in this country will not be easy. The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection has described it as problematic with regard to existing legal guarantees of individual rights and Prime Minister Petr Nečas said last week the government would suspend ratification until it had analyzed the possible impacts of the treaty.
A study conducted by Equality, a UK national support organisation for the Roma, has shown that a number of Roma children who had previously been placed in special schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were successfully completing primary and secondary education at integrated, mainstream schools in the United Kingdom. The average attainment of Roma pupils aged 9-15 in numeracy, literacy, and science at UK mainstream schools was just below average. Only a small percentage of the overall cohort of Roma pupils (2 to 4 percent) at schools surveyed were regarded as requiring special education needs because of learning difficulties or disabilities that made it more difficult for them to learn or access education than most children of the same age. For these Roma pupils, this extra help is given within the mainstream school. The Czech Republic is now in the process of integrating Roma children who had previously been placed in special schools into the mainstream. However the effort is meeting with considerable opposition from teachers who say that children who come from special schools will slow down the pace of education for the rest of the class.
Low salaries in the sphere of social services are undermining the quality of care for old, disabled and helpless persons, according to health and social care trade union leader Dagmar Žitníkova. Mrs. Žitníkova warned that there was a massive drain of experienced and qualified staff and if measures were not taken to correct the problem, the system of care for old people would soon break down. Social care workers earn around 10,000 crowns a month, which is markedly below the country’ s average monthly gross salary of 24,000 crowns. Some 43,000 people work in social care services in the 10 million strong Czech Republic.
A smog alert remains in place in several central Bohemian cities with dust particles in the air twice exceeding set norms. The towns of Mladá Boleslav, Beroun and Příbram are said to be the worst affected. The local authorizes have appealed to drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport until the situation improves. Doctors have warned people suffering from heart problems or asthma to stay indoors as much as possible. Children and the elderly have also been warned about possible complications particularly in view of the continuing frosty weather.
The arctic weather which is holding the country in its grip has caused damages to the tune of millions of crowns, according to a survey conducted among local insurance companies. The frost is damaging water pipes and heating pipes around the country, as well as rail tracks and power networks. Buses and trucks are having problems with diesel fuel which freezes at certain temperatures and car batteries are failing in the frost. The country’s largest insurer Česká Spořitelna says that since the arctic weather hit is has received 700 claims worth tens of millions of crowns.
The State Veterinary Office is investigating a case of salmonella bacteria found in poultry. A random test conducted in several hypermarkets showed that all poultry products tested contained the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli in small measure, though in one case the product failed to meet the set EU norms. Inspectors say this was likely to have been as a result of inadequate transport or storage conditions. The health authorizes have warned consumers to make sure that their poultry is properly cooked which should completely destroy any salmonella bacteria it contains.
Revelers have taken to the streets for a Mardi Gras carnival in Prague. Most of the events planned over the next few days will take place in the Lesser Town and on Prague’s old Town Square where people will be able to enjoy the performances of clowns, acrobats and revelers in masks and carnival dress. There will be concerts of baroque music and dancing and crazy competitions. Some restaurants in the city centre are offering special Mardi Gras menus.
During talks in Brussels on Friday the EU’s Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor warned Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš that his ministry could lose millions of euros in subsidies over poorly administered EU projects. The EU Commissioner pointed out mistakes in public procurement and said that EU funds were not always used as stated in approved projects. He said the Czech government must take immediate and effective measures to correct these failing or resign itself to losing most of the funds it could draw from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme. Mr. Dobeš said he realized the gravity of the situation and promised to implement corrective measures within the next few weeks. The European Commissioner said further talks in March would be decisive with respect to further EU funding.
According to a survey by the Median agency, published in Friday’s edition of the daily Mladá fronta dnes, former prime minister Jan Fischer would receive the most votes if direct presidential elections were held today. Roughly a third of respondents said they would cast their ballot for the former prime minister, who headed an interim government between April 2009 and July 2010. If elections were held today, economist Jan Švejnar would receive a sixth of the votes, while entrepreneur Tomio Okamura polled at ten percent. Only six percent of respondents said they would vote for candidate Karel Schwarzenberg, the current foreign minister. The Czech Senate approved an amendment to the constitution that paves the way for direct elections on Wednesday; Czechs will be able to vote for their president directly for the first time in March of 2013, when current president Václav Klaus’s second term expires.
The Czech Republic has won an arbitration case against the Swiss consortium Oeconomicus, the Czech Finance Ministry said on Friday. The Swiss consortium took the Czech state to court over allegedly having violated the Czech-Swiss agreement on the protection of investments. The court victory will save the state five billion crowns and the Swiss company has also been ordered to cover all court expenses.