Around 7,000 student protesters marched in the centre of Prague this morning, according to police estimates, though student leaders put the figure at 10,000. The marches are part of an ongoing “week of protests” organised by students against proposed government education reforms. Prague students were joined by their compatriots from across the country, reports ČTK, and marched from Rudolfinum to the offices of the Czech government in the centre of the city. Tuesday saw around 6000 students demonstrating in the city of Brno, while protests are also expected Wednesday in Hradec Králové, České Budějovice, Ostrava and Plzeň. Specifically, the students are seeking that Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš reject current reform proposals, which students believe both reduce the autonomy of education institutions and shift the burden of funding higher education to students.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has reacted to Wednesday’s ongoing student protests by stating that the government will negotiate not only with teachers but also students over its controversial plans to reform the Czech education system. The PM also noted that student protests were an entirely normal matter in a free country and that negotiations with all interested parties, including students, will, in his words “bring about positive changes in the Czech education system.” Nečas also confirmed that students and government officials did not meet Wednesday during protesters’ march on the main offices of the Czech government in Prague –because, he noted, the cabinet was in a meeting at the time of the protests.
The Czech government has approved a strategy ahead of the upcoming EU summit on Thursday in which it will continue to oppose the concept of a fiscal union in Europe. The news was confirmed following a meeting of the cabinet on Wednesday. According to PM Petr Nečas, the coalition government has agreed that the end result of the EU summit will not involve a Czech signature on any pan-European plan to create a fiscal unity pact, primarily designed to stabilize the euro and bind governments towards fiscal responsibility. However, Nečas noted that the door remained open for future Czech agreement and urged other participating countries to move on without his country. Of the EU 27, 25 countries have agreed to sign the fiscal pact; the two holdouts are the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, both not members of the eurozone.
The Czech Republic is seeking to purchase a number of US made F-16 fighter jets, according to emails from the private security company Stratfor published this week by Wikileaks. According to the emails, the Czech Republic is seeking to create a pool of six central European countries that would make a bulk purchase of the fighter jets and thus lower the overall costs. Specifically, an October 2011 email asserts that the Czech Ambassador to the United States and his security attaché are seeking to purchase the aircrafts – instead of Swedish made Gripen jets – but stated that the current asking price was too high. It proposes that Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and perhaps Poland pool together to purchase a total of 85 fighters. In February, the Czech government decided that it will continue to have a supersonic military air-force beyond 2015, the date that the lease on its current Gripen fleet is set to end.
The Senate has passed a law recognising the accomplishments of the recently deceased former Czech president Václav Havel. The law was proposed shortly after the former president’s death last December; the ultimate language of the legislation notes that the former president “worked for freedom and democracy” in the country. 52 of 59 senators present voted for the legislation with only the Communist Party opposed. However, the law, which must now be signed by Havel’s successor Václav Klaus, was not without controversy. Of 100 senators who could have voted on the measure, many chose to abstain. According to Christian Democrat Petr Pithart and Social Democrat Jiří Dientsbier, while Havel’s contribution is not in doubt, the idea that a law is an appropriate way to mark this is questionable.
2012’s February 29th leap day caused a momentary meltdown of computers across the country tasked with processing Czech ID card applications, reports Právo. This left countless Czechs unable to pick up their cards on Wednesday, although according to the Czech Interior Ministry, the problem has now been resolved. Interior Ministry spokesperson Vladimír Řepka stated that the leap day was indeed responsible and also affected the issuing of travel documents in some regions. The issuing of new updated electronic ID cards has been beset with bugs since January, adds Právo, with several cases of technical breakdowns and long queues forming at issuing offices across the country.
The Czech government has reportedly failed to gain enough support for a proposal to outlaw the Communist Party, which currently holds 26 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 114 seats in regional councils. The decision was confirmed by Czech Interior Minister Jan Kubice on Wednesday. A study requested by the Interior tasked a group of lawyers, criminal experts and other specialists to examine whether grounds existed to terminate the functioning of the current Communist Party. The resulting report argued that such grounds categorically do not exist at present. However, the ministry will reportedly now undertake a probe of several communist civic groups, including youth movements. At issue is whether communist ideology, which advocates the overthrowing of existing governments, does not qualify as an illegal form of extremist incitement. The ministry’s moves follow a government request last summer to look into communist activities in the country
Provisional police data on the number of Czechs who perished in traffic-related accidents in February suggests the second lowest mortality rate in twenty years. According to the numbers, 31 people died this February, down significantly from 51 in 2011. However, the 2010 figure of 30 deaths remains a low water mark, the highest being 92 deaths in February 2000, according to ČTK. February 27th was the worst day of February 2012 for traffic accidents, with five deaths. The data also shows that 13 days in the month of February saw no deaths at all.
A truck has collided with a passenger train near the Czech town of Podbořany, west of Prague. Reports suggest the incident occurred at a train crossing at 1415 Wednesday. Fire and rescue services were immediately dispatched to the scene. Two people travelling inside the train are believed to have been injured in the crash, with reports suggesting that one wagon was completely overturned by the collision and is now resting on its side. According to local authorities, investigators will seek to determine whether signalling equipment, which should have alerted the truck driver of the approaching train, was working properly.
52-year-old Alžběta Pourová broke her own endurance record by swimming in the ice-cold Vltava river on Wednesday for 57 minutes. In 2006, the swimmer entered the Czech record books with a forty minute swim. The current record-breaking swim took place in waters of 4 degrees Celsius, with Czech media present to watch the event in Prague, which took place on Pourová’s birthday. Alžběta Pourová has been involved in endurance swimming for more than thirty years, reports ČTK, adding that Wednesday’s record attempt took months of training and preparation. Also present at the event were police and diving teams ready to intervene should anything go wrong. The Czech Republic has a long tradition of cold-endurance swimming, notes ČTK, with the first such event taking place in 1923.