Josef Dobeš has resigned as Minster of Education. The Public Affairs member said he made the decision after the government voted to decrease the budget of the Education Ministry by 2.5 billion crowns, which he says would mean cutting teachers’ salaries. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he had been informed before the vote that Dobeš would be leaving the cabinet on Thursday and said his decision was appropriate and honourable, as he had asked the cabinet to either approve a total of 23.6 billion in cuts unanimously or else resign. Mr Dobeš is one of the most contentious members of the government, having been dogged by numerous controversies since early last year, when the prime minister unsuccessfully sought his resignation due to scandals within the Public Affairs party. While President Klaus once called him the best education minister since the revolution, the Social Democratis Party welcomed news of his resignation, with their shadow minister saying he was the worst education minister of all time. He is the eighth minister to leave the current government.
The ABL detective agency obtained wiretap recordings of the mayor of Prague in 2009, according to the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. The paper says that the phone calls were made between then mayor Pavel Bém and lobbyist Roman Janoušek in 2007 and were later acquired from the state intelligence agency BIS while leading Public Affairs member Vít Bárta was at the head of ABL. According to Mladá fronta, the recordings show that Mr Janoušek was involved in making key decisions about city zoning, the sale of land and the city’s personnel policy. BIS has denied involvement with the recordings. ABL has previously been accused of monitoring Prague politicians and of being closely linked to the junior coalition party Public Affairs. The legislative intelligence service committee is investigating the situation.
The Czech Republic will not be closing its embassy in Syria, and is instead considering offering its services to other EU states that have closed their own embassies due to the worsening security situation in the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that the range of services will depend on the embassy’s personnel and technical capacities and on interest among EU countries. On Wednesday Slovakia became the latest of the seven EU countries that have closed their embassies in Damascus, where clashes between the army and insurgents have occurred in recent days. The ministry says the embassy is an essential source of objective information on developments in Syria and serves some 200 Czechs in the country.
Charita ČR has announced it is collecting money for food and material aid for people in the restive area of Syria and for refugees who have been forced to leave the country. The organisation says it is working with a partner who cannot be named for security is distributing the materials locally. The People in Need Foundation has also freed money from its crisis fund and has been aiding an underground network of medical workers since January. The humanitarian organisation ADRA is also working on an aid project. According to the UN more than 8,000 people have been killed in fighting in Syria since last March.
The Chamber of Deputies has passed the new postal service act, which will remove the last monopoly from the state-run Česká pošta. Česká pošta is currently the only service able to deliver packages of less than 50 grams, meaning primarily letters and postcards, which amount to one third of the postal market. EU legislation accepted by the Czech Republic requires that postal services be liberalised. The bill gives Česká pošta a postal licence until 2017, after which time a selection procedure will be held. Disputes have arisen regarding the requirement that other market players compensate for the state company’s losses after that time. The industry association has warned of major lawsuits if the bill goes ahead in its current form.
An association of medical patients is organising a protest against government reforms in front of the Ministry of Health in Prague on March 27. The association announced the protest on Wednesday, saying the reforms will impoverish patients and demanding the cancelation of doctors’ fees and the resignation of the government. The protest is supported by the Chamber of Doctors and is being organised by the council for disabled persons, health care unions and the ProAlt initiative. Three reform measures are to take effect on April 1. The association believes they will cause problems with medicines, health care aid and medical availability.
The Czech centre-right government survived a vote of no-confidence in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday night. The opposition Social Democrats, who tabled the motion, criticized the government for what they see a series of ill-conceived government steps, such as the health care and pension reform, as the reason; however, the opposition did not manage to get enough votes to oust the cabinet led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas which could rely on the support of all coalition MPs. Social Democrat leader, Bohuslav Sobotka said however his party would try to topple the coalition government again.
Former prime minister Miloš Zeman has launched a petition for his presidential candidacy. The honorary chairman of the Party of Citizens' Rights – Zemanovci (SPOZ) will address voters by sending them a flyer with his life story. The party is aiming to collect 50,000 signatures as required for presidential candidates. Party leader Vratislav Mynář says that students will be the main engine of the petition campaign, with 80 having signed on already as volunteers. Zeman, who is 67, is the third most popular candidate at the moment according to latest polls, with 10.2 percent.
The Czech government has agreed with the proposal to rename the international airport in Prague after former president Vaclav Havel, a government source told the Czech Press Agency. On Tuesday, Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš said the airport could be renamed in October. The idea, proposed by film director Fero Fenič, drew many supporters shortly Havel’s death on December 18, 2011. Mr Dobeš also presented a new logotype for the airport on Wednesday, but he would not yet show it to the media.
A group of Czech activists gave a letter to the Chinese embassy in Prague on Wednesday, demanding that lawyer Gao Zhisheng and followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement be released from prison. The letter was signed by Czech pop singers Marta Kubišová and Dan Bárta, writer Jachým Topol and senators Alena Palečková and Tomáš Grulich, among others. Gao Zhisheng is one of the most significant human rights advocates in China, known as defence lawyer for farmers from whom the state took their land and children harmed in state-run hospitals. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2011. A protest against the imprisonment of Gao and Galun Gong members was held outside the embassy in January.