Police have again suspended a part of the Opencard investigation regarding public orders for legal and consulting services. The investigation was already suspended in the first half of last year, but was ordered reopened by the Supreme State Prosecutor. Detectives again reached the conclusion that no crime was committed in this instance; other aspects of the case are still under investigation. Prague’s Opencard serves as a transit pass and is also used for other services such as the borrowing of library books. Critics charge that the project – which cost more than 800 million crowns – was drastically overpriced.
The Finance Ministry reports that the state debt increased by 155 billion crowns in 2011 to slightly less than 1.5 trillion, which means about 142,000 crowns (6,814 USD) per Czech citizen. The current figure is currently four times the amount of ten years ago and doubled in the last six years. According to the strategy for debt management and financing, the national debt should have been four billion crowns lower last year and should increase by 103 billion in the next year.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas, in a Sunday TV appearance, defended his government’s reform policies, stating that he opposition’s criticism of them is unjustified. The opposition Social Democrats had ample time to weigh in on the reforms; their recent challenge of the reform package in the Constitutional Court is merely an attempt to block the lower house’s work for several months, he said. He added that the changes in unemployment legislation had created a system that motivates persons without work to seek employment, citing figures that put the Czech Republic at the sixth-lowest unemployment rank within the EU. Mr. Nečas said that in the future, the country needed to further invest into research and innovation to remain competitive.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has called on Germany to adopt a more modest and careful approach in its European policy. In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, Mr. Schwarzenberg said that smaller EU countries felt taken aback by the private meetings between German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nikolas Sarkozy. It was not appropriate for these two big countries to discuss issues amongst themselves and then merely inform other EU member states of their decisions, he said. He also criticized Germany for presenting itself as a role model for the rest of Europe. He added that this was no time for small-mindedness in EU politics. The interview with the Czech politician will be published in Germany on Monday.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has announced that additional cuts of
30 billion Czech crowns will have to be made to the 2012 state budget. In
debate program on Czech TV on Sunday, Mr. Kalousek said that cuts would
have to be made in administration and government budgets and that the
would also have to freeze some of its investments. The Finance Ministry is
set to present its further austerity measures at the end of this month.
The 2012 state budget deficit of 105 billion crowns was approved in December. However, it was tailored to April’s growth forecast and MPs conceded that it would most likely have to be revised.
The Jizerská padesátka cross-country skiing race was held on Sunday, attracting hundreds of amateur enthusiasts as well as professional skiers. Czech cross-country skier Stanislav Řežáč won the race for the third time in his career. Previously, he had taken the title in 2000 and 2001. Commenting on his victory, he said it was the domestic title he considered most important and that he was pleased with his achievement. The Swedish Jimmie Johnsson came in second, ahead of Norway’s Jörgen Aukland.
Czech speed skater Martina Sablíková, world-record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters speed skating discipline, on Sunday won the European speed skating championships in Budapest. She came in first in the 5,000-meters race, ahead of the German Claudia Pechstein and the Dutch Ireen Wüst. This is the fourth time that the two-time Czech Olympics winner is taking home the title in the European championships.
Czech cross-country skier Lukáš Bauer has come in sixth at the Tour de Ski. Martin Jakš, also of the Czech Republic, came in ninth at the cross-country skiing event, which finished with the final climb up the Italian Val die Fiemme on Sunday. Swiss Dario Cologna won the competition, the Swedish Marcus Hellner came in second. Bauer has won the Tour de Ski twice in his career, in 2011 and in 2009.
Heavy snow that has been falling in the north of the country as well as in the Hradec Králové region is causing traffic complications. Several accidents happened on Saturday afternoon, among them two bus accidents as well as a collision of two cars. No one was injured. Road maintenance crews are struggling to deal with the consequences of the heavy snow. For the Moravian-Silesian region, meteorologists have issued an ice warning and have called on drivers to exercise caution.
Some 200 people attended a funeral ceremony for a 22-year-old Romany man
that took place in Tanvald on Saturday. The man was shot in the north
Bohemian town on New Year’s Day. After an emotional service in the local
church, hundreds of people, among them Romanies from across the country,
accompanied the man’s coffin to the cemetery, where a minute of silence
in honor of the murder victim was held.
Police presence in Tanvald was heightened during the funeral and local
police forces were monitoring the situation closely. The funeral ended
without any clashes between Roma and right-wing extremists, who some feared
would travel to the town. Tensions between Czechs and Romanies have been
building in Tanvald in recent years.
On New Year’s Day, a 63-year-old man shot the 22-year-old Romany man and his 24-year old brother, killing one and wounding the other. Police are investigating the case and have stated that there is no evidence of racial motives for the murder.