The Czech government will step down if no agreement among the coalition
parties is reached by next Tuesday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said after a
meeting of the Civic Democrat party leadership. Mr Nečas said his party
was ready to accept some of the demands made by the junior coalition Public
Affairs party which triggered the latest government crisis; namely, to
reduce the number of ministries by three and to revise the coalition
agreement. Leaders of the three government parties are to meet on Tuesday;
if no agreement is reached, Mr Nečas said the country would head for early
general elections that could take place in June.
The prime minister’s announcement came a day after the Public Affairs party threatened to quit the coalition if their demands are not met by the end of the month. Both Civic Democrat and TOP 09 party leaders however rejected the ultimatum and said they would rather opt for snap elections.
In related news, the opposition Social Democrats and Communists said on Wednesday they were ready for negotiations about early general elections with the coalition parties. Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka has been authorized to approach the leaders of the Civic Democrat and TOP 09 parties to reach agreement on calling snap elections which could take place in June. Communist chair Vojtěch Filip also said his party was ready to support such a motion in the lower house.
The trial against Public Affairs de-facto leader Vít Bárta continued on Wednesday. Mr Bárta faces corruption charges related to payments he made to Public Affairs deputies. The hearings continued on Wednesday with the testimony of MP Josef Novotný and a reporter for the weekly Respekt who broke the story last year. If convicted, Mr Bárta will face up to six years in jail. The court is expected to deliver a verdict on Friday.
President Václav Klaus has questioned the government’s plans for the
restitution of church property confiscated by the communist regime in the
1950s. Speaking at an economic forum in Prague on Wednesday, Mr Klaus said
there were several issues that still needed to be clarified, and that he
had doubts about whether the government had chosen the right concept for
the restitution, particularly in relation to its scope.
The government plans to return physical property worth around 75 billion crowns to Czech churches which would receive some 59 billion crowns as reimbursement for the rest. The respective legislation is awaiting debate in the lower house of Parliament.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved proposals to regulate lobbying. The cabinet assigned deputy PM Karolín Peake to draft a bill that would define lobbying and introduce sanctions for illegal lobbying activities while lobbyists would have to register. The cabinet rejected plans to introduce ‘public diaries’ in which officials would be required to register all contacts with lobbyists. The bill should be ready by the end of August.
A number of Czech NGOs on Wednesday called for the establishment of a “civic parliamentary committee” that should investigate links between organized crime and politics. Entitled You Stole Our Country, Give It Back, the initiative also called for any related materials collected by the Czech intelligence services to be declassified. The organizers said the initiative was a reaction to the latest wiretapping scandal which revealed that former Prague mayor, Pavel Bém, consulted some of his decision with lobbyist Roman Janoušek.
Six police officers are facing disciplinary charges over the way they handled the car crash of lobbyist Roman Janoušek earlier this month. Mr Janoušek crashed into another car and then ran over its driver and fled the site before he was arrested. However, the officers allowed Mr Janoušek to make phone calls, he was interrogated while still under the influence of alcohol, and was released just hours after the accident. The deputy chief of the Prague police force earlier resigned over the scandal.
A Czech soldier, serving in the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Logar province, sustained light injuries on Wednesday after an anti-tank grenade attack, a spokeswoman for the Czech Army said. The soldier, who suffered a leg fracture and lighter injuries to his arm, was taken to a military hospital in the capital Kabul. Some 600 Czech troops now serve in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s ISAF mission; five Czech soldiers have been killed since the start of the operation.
Swiss authorities on Wednesday extradited fugitive Czech businessman Tomáš Pitr who fled the country after being sentenced to five years in prison for tax fraud. A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry said Mr Pitr arrived in Prague in the afternoon, accompanied by three Czech police officers. Tomáš Pitr was arrested in Switzerland two years ago; his extradition was made possible after he voluntarily withdrew a petition for asylum in that country following a Prague court decision to allow his case to be re-opened.
In the Czech hockey league playoffs, Pardubice beat Liberec 4:2 on Tuesday night and won the semifinal best-of-seven series 4:2. In the finals, Pardubice will play Kometa Brno which had earlier booked their spot after defeating regular season’s runners-up Plzeň. The first game of the final series is scheduled on Monday in Pardubice.