Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas is reported to have warned Miroslav Kalousek over an alleged telephone call made by the Finance Minister to Jiří Mazánek, a police investigator looking into alleged overpricing involving the purchases of the army’s CASA transport planes. The planes were bought by Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová, who is currently under investigation over the controversial deal, which was also approved by Kalousek in his capacity as Finance Minister. Mazánek claims that in a recent telephone call, pressure was exerted by Kalousek over the matter of stripping Parkanová of immunity so that she may be fully investigated over the CASA affair. Kalousek has denied such lobbying for his colleague. PM Nečas has reportedly warned members of his cabinet to avoid contacting investigators at all in such situations, threatening dismissal for this offence.
The Syrian secret police are reported to have arrested a Czech woman, aged 32, on suspicion of collaborating with opposition rebels. Neither her family nor the Czech Embassy in Damascus have any news about her present whereabouts. Sandra Bitarova, who has a Syrian father and a Czech mother, has permanent residence in Syria, though she also has Czech citizenship. According to her family Bitarova is not personally involved in politics and her arrest may be an attempt to put pressure on her father who is an opposition activist and a vocal critic of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Severe flooding has hit the Plzeň region around the town of Klatovy in the south-west of the country after severe rains overnight. According to meteorologists, around 20mm of rain was forecast to fall in the region. Most severely hit were the towns of Sušice and Klatov with the Šumava and Křemelná rivers reaching a level three degree of flooding while by morning, the River Ostružná had also reached a lower level two degree of flooding. Fire-fighters in the area were forced to evacuate dozens of homes, with locals reportedly saying that they could not remember such severe rainfall in their lifetimes. Roads were flooded in Mochtín, Chlistov and Kolinec and villages such as Běšiny remained impassable. So far, only one death, that of an elderly woman in Mochtín has been reported.
Several other regions including Hradec Králové, Southern Bohemia and Pardubice were also hit by severe rains overnight. In the Southern Bohemia region, a section of railway from Vyšší Brod to Rybník was blocked by rocks as a result of the downpour, while a road near the village of Přečín was made impassable by large levels of mud. Fire-fighters were called to around thirty incidents in all. In the Hradce Králové region, a person was reportedly hit by lightning, but survived without serious injury, while numerous basements and homes were flooded. Additionally, a children’s summer camp in Miskolezy had to be evacuated. In the Pardubicko region, fire-fighters also responded to numerous flooding incidents, as well as a fallen tree in Brandýse nad Orlicí.
According to new data published by the Czech Statistics Office (CSU), retails sales in May fell by 2.1% year-on-year, compared to a 4.2% fall in April. Initial forecasts had been for a 3.5% fall; however, the data also represents the third straight month of decreasing sales in the country amidst concerns that government austerity measures are leading to reduced demand and falls in household spending. Last week, the Czech National Bank cut benchmark interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point to 0.5% in a bid to boost the economy.
A new website has been established to enable patients in the Czech Republic to compare the costs of above-standard care in hospitals. Cekacidoby.cz – meaning waiting times – offers comparison price checks for items which are better than those covered by standard health insurance. A patient can thus choose to pay more for better services, including items such as new, higher quality synthetic lenses for cataract patients or lighter plaster casts. The website, which is privately run and relies on a number of sponsors, has been up and running since last year, offering patients overviews of hospital waiting times – for example waiting times for an arthroscopy at the Hradec Králové Teaching Hospital is listed as two months. The new service comparing the prices of specific services is a new addition to the site.
The State Agricultural and Food Inspection Authority (SZPI) has ordered the Czech food company Hamé to withdraw from sale more than 11,000 sweet biscuit packs after they were found to contain misleading labeling. The “butter leaves” are in fact made using margarine and not butter, with SZPI spokesperson Pavel Kopřiva stating that such mislabeling will lead to legal proceedings and sanctions against the company. The biscuits themselves were made by the Polish firm Mieszko for Hamé.
In a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the government of PM Petr Nečas rejected a proposal tabled by the opposition Social Democrats to toughen laws protecting school teachers and other educational staff from violence. Under the proposals, five new categories of crime would afford teachers greater protection: murder, severe violent attacks, violent attacks, extortion and dangerously threatening behaviour. Proponents of the legislation argued that teachers are increasingly finding themselves the victims of physical assaults by pupils. However, the government rejected the proposals arguing instead for more preventative measures to be taken by schools and also adding that violence against teachers is already against the law and does not require additional legislation.
An ongoing online poll conducted by the news agency ČTK suggests the Czech public remain highly sceptical that the newly appointed Justice Minister Pavel Blažek will be able to carry out his job effectively. The poll asked respondents: “Will new Justice Minister Blažek be able to protect the justice system from external pressures and effectively investigate even sensitive political scandals?” Of around 1,700 votes so far, an overwhelming 96% said no – with 85% voting for a definitive “no” and 11% voting for “I don’t have much hope of that”. Only 4% expressed confidence in the new minister’s ability in the (entirely unscientific) poll.
Budějovický Budvar, the state-owned maker of Budweiser Buvar beer has terminated a deal with rival US Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch, according to the AP. Under the 2007 deal, the two rivals, who have been engaged in a decades-long legal dispute of the Budweiser trademark, the Czech Budvar beer was distributed by Anheuser-Busch in the US under the brand name “Czechvar”. Despite an initial surge in sales to the US, Budvar complained that post-2008, the new owners of Anheuser-Busch, the Belgian company InBev, lost interest in the product, with 2011 sales only at 30% of what had been projected. According to Budvar, the company United State Beverages located in Stamford, Connecticut will now take over distribution of Czechvar from InBev.