The Czech Republic is to provide consular services for the US in Syria, the Czech Foreign Ministry has confirmed. The move comes following the closure of the Polish embassy, which had been undertaking this service for the US, in Syria on Friday, following security concerns. The Czech embassy will also continue to provide consular services for the Slovakian government in Syria. The US embassy in Syria was closed back in February as violence flared up in the country between pro-government forces and anti-Assad rebels. The Czech move comes in response to a request by the US government; the Czech foreign ministry has said that its own country’s presence in Syria will continue to be evaluated in relation to the ever-changing security situation in the country.
Customs officers in the Czech city of Plzeň have arrested a gang of alleged cigarette smugglers. The arrest was made on the night of July 26th as the alleged culprits – two Czechs, a Ukrainian and a Pole – were in the process of transferring 840,000 Russian produced cigarettes smuggled into the country in a vehicle with a specially designed secret compartment. According to police, the journey of the smugglers may have led to the cigarettes being smuggled via a recently discovered 700 metre tunnel built between Slovakia and the Ukraine used for smuggling goods, including cigarettes. Around 250,000 crowns of duties were allegedly avoided in relation to the arrest in Plzeň.
The Czech Republic’s Šumava National Park in the south-west of the country will undergo the felling of 1000 hectares of forest in the autumn, according to the park’s new director Jiří Mánek. The move will see trees which have grown in the last thirty years on sites of former farming activity removed in order to restore agriculture in the affected areas. Under the plans, one family will farm on roughly 50 hectares rented plots. However, environmentalists, who support the farming plans, remain critical of the felling, arguing that plenty of clearings already exist in the park that could be utilized for agriculture.
Prague’s underground car traffic tunnel, known as Blanka, will reach a final price tag of 36 billion crowns, according to a report obtained from Prague municipal authorities by the newspaper Hospodářské Noviny. The tunnel, which is set to open in May 2014, will provide a traffic bypass from the north to the south-west of the city. Construction on the roughly 6.4 km tunnel began in 2007, with an initial estimated price tag of 28 billion crowns, according to then major Pavel Bém. Engineering challenges in the digging of the tunnel are said to be behind the increased costs. However, city authorities are claiming that they managed to reduce costs from escalating to 38 billion, saving 2 billion crowns. The tunnel is being built by the private firm Metrostav, with finances coming from both Prague and the national government.
President Václav Klaus on Wednesday signed into law a bill on direct presidential elections, a spokesman for the president said. The legislation will allow Czechs to elect the next president in a two-round direct election, for the first time in history. According to the implementary legislation, any candidate will have to be nominated by either 20 MPs or ten senators, or collect 50,000 signatures in support of the bid. Expenses on the election campaign will be limited to 50 million crowns. The two candidates who receive the highest number of votes will advance to the second round to be held two weeks after the first. Czech expats will be allowed to vote at Czech embassies and consulates. So far, some 15 people have expressed interest in running for president. The next head of state will be elected in January or February 2013.
The website of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions was reportedly hit by a hacking attack at noon on Wednesday. According to specialists analysing the event, the attack stemmed from an IP address connected to the Czech Ministry of Labour. The website, called obboryplus, which reportedly has around 3000 online members, registered thousands attacks at around noon, resulting in a loss of service for around fifteen minutes. The technical analyst firm analysing the events has said that such an attack was very likely coordinated. The Ministry of Labour has responded by stating that such allegations have yet to be substantiated, but that if proven, it will investigate the incident.
The number of people infected with the HIV virus is up from 2011, with around a hundred people diagnosed in 2012 as compared to 153 in the whole of the last year, according to the Czech Medical Institute. The numbers affirm a decade long increase in infection rates as scientists warn of fears over the virus falling among the public leading to necessary precautions being avoided.
Last week, staff at Prague Zoo were in mourning over the accidental self-hanging of the five-year-old and much-loved gorilla Tatu. However, mourning turned to joy on Tuesday as the zoo announced that Tatu’s mother Kijivu was once again pregnant. The birth is expected at the end of this year. Kijivu, who is nineteen years old, is also the mother of the seven-year-old Moja, who was moved to Spain in 2011 and two-year-old Kiburi. Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the deceased Tatu will be stuffed and placed on permanent display at the National Museum.
Čestmír Šimáně, a renowned Czech physicist, has died at the age of 93, according to an announcement made on Wednesday by the Czech Academy of Sciences. The scientist is regarded as one of the founders of nuclear physics in the country. Šimáně studied in both Czechoslovakia and France before joining the newly-formed Atomic Physics Institute; in 1954, he became the head of the Physics Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and became a key voice in lobbying efforts for this dangerous form of energy to be put to peaceful and not destructive uses. The scientist, who during his career focused on nuclear accelerators, reactors and the detection of radiation, published numerous books and articles during his career as well as teaching nuclear physics to Czech students.
The Czech Republic has ended its Olympic medals drought with a silver medal win by twenty-five-year-old kayaker Vavřinec Hradilek. The silver medal win was in the Olympics-Men's canoe slalom K1 kayak category, with Hradilek coming in with a time of 94.78 seconds. He was pipped at the post by gold medal winner Italy’s Daniele Molmenti, who came in at 93.43 seconds. This is Hradilek’s first Olympic medal; the kayaker came in seventh place in his category during the Beijing Olympics four years ago.