Education Minister Josef Dobeš has reacted to pressure by students at the Plzeň law faculty and extended the undergraduate programme at the troubled school until 2016. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, he stressed it would be impossible for all 1,800 undergraduate students at the institution to complete their studies elsewhere: the school had been slated to close by October of this year, following a decision by the Czech Accreditation Commission over staffing problems at the school and a lack of vision. The faculty has been dogged by problems since 2009 when it was hit by a scandal involving plagiarism and fast-track degrees. The education minister’s decision brought immediate reaction from Accreditation Commission head Vladimíra Dvořáková, who called it unlawful and confirmed in response the commission will file a legal complaint. Technically the minister was not in a position to counter the earlier decision.
In related news, former education minister and the head of the extra-parliamentary Green Party, Ondřej Liška, filed a criminal complaint against Josef Dobeš, expressing shock over his successor’s steps. Mr Liška said he was stunned over the unlawful manner in which the current education minister had extended accreditation at the faculty to 2016, saying Mr Dobeš had no right to go against the earlier decision by the Accreditation Commission. Minister Dobeš, at a press conference on Friday, said the step was backed-up by legal analysis.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has told the Austrian daily Der Standard he still believes the Czech Republic will eventually sign the European Union’s new fiscal treaty. In the interview, published on Friday, the minister, who is also chairman of the TOP 09 party and a presidential hopeful, reiterated his conviction the country belonged in the EU core and also expressed support for energy reforms meant to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness. Regarding the Czech Republic, he rejected the idea of a referendum on the adoption of the single European currency, saying a promise had been made when joining the EU. He added, however, that his opinion differed from the prime minister’s. Prime Minister Petr Nečas and the foreign minister have clashed on a number of occasions over the fiscal compact; Mr Nečas was the only EU statesman besides British Prime Minister David Cameron not to sign the document. There have been some suggestions the Czech signature could be added later.
More than half of the country‘s town halls, city halls and regional bureaux have unfurled and hung the Tibetan flag a day ahead of the international day of solidarity with the people of Tibet, which was annexed by China in 1959. Andrea Pavlátová a coordinator from the NGO Lungta told the Czech news agency that of 728 bureaux or town halls contacted, 405 had agreed to take part in the Flags for Tibet event while 307 declined. Taking part in the event has become a tradition in parts of the Czech Republic since Žižkov’s city hall in Prague became the first Czech institution to join the international event 17 years ago.
Interior Minister Jan Kubice has said the ministry expects a shortfall of around 1.7 billion crowns in 2012 as a result of government austerity measures. At a press conference in Prague, the minister stressed that although the number was not necessarily definite and would depend on negotiations between within the ruling coalition in March, he did not want any additional cuts to affect police officers or others in the security services. He did suggest that hiring new police officers as sought by police president Petr Lessý (who said he would like to see 1,500 personnel recruited) was not in the cards. Currently there are some 38,900 members of the force in the country but analysis has suggested 40,309 would be ideal
The first round of the trial of leading Public Affairs member and former transport minister Vít Bárta comes to a close on Friday. Over the course of the week six past and present government ministers took the stand to give testimony. Mr Bárta is accused of having given bribes to former members of his party, including Krystina Kočí, who was a top representative. The trial saw a number of revelations this week regarding secret recordings and some emotional moments including one where Mr Bárta came close to tears. A number of high-profile members of Public Affairs, including former interior minister Radek John, have come to Mr Bárta’s defence, suggesting that funds given were only loans. Mr Bárta’s trial will continue in April; if found guilty, he could face up to six years in prison.
A new poll by the STEM agency has suggested that if elections were held today only four parties would gain enough votes to make it into the Chamber of Deputies. According to the survey, the opposition Social Democrats would win 88 seats in the 200-member house – a jump of 11 since January. The Communists would pick up 37, meaning the political Left would hold a comfortable majority of 125. Of the current parties in government, the Civic Democrats would pick up 50 mandates and the newer right-of-centre party TOP 09 just 15. The smallest party, Public Affairs would not make it into the Chamber at all, finishing with only 2.1 percent of the vote – well below the five percent threshold. Similarly, the Christian Democrats would also fail to get elected to the lower house.
Successful businessman and crown billionaire Andrej Babiš will not put forward a candidate list for this year’s regional elections, the internet daily Insider reports. According to the site, the decision was taken after a meeting of supporters on Thursday backing the businessman’s plans to build up Ano 2011 on the strength of an anti-corruption message. Instead of the regional elections, Mr Babiš will reportedly focus on the next general election in 2014. This year, the website added, he could still support independent candidates for the Senate. Mr Babiš is not the first in recent years to come forward with an anti-corruption platform: the smallest party in government, Public Affairs, succeeded in 2010 to get into the lower house of Parliament on a pledge to fight corruption. Voter preference for Public Affairs has since plummeted following a scandal last year that almost brought down the government.
The country’s criminal police are searching for a dangerous recidivist, Milan Žiga, who may have infected several people with Hepatitis C, gonorrhoea, and syphilis. The man, a drug-user, could face up to three years in prison for spreading the diseases. The suspect was arrested at the end of February on the suspicion of having raped another male and admitted under police questioning that he had had unprotected sex with at least five other people although he knew he was ill with serious infectious diseases. The 27-year-old has a long history of crime and received six jail sentences in the past for crimes including theft and robbery.
A suspect who robbed a bank on Friday afternoon on Prague’s Spálená Street, threatening to set off a bomb, was apprehended by police shortly after the incident. According to reports the hold-up took place at around two-thirty pm. Police are analysing security tapes and are searching the premises for explosives. Nobody was hurt during the hold-up.