Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will be meeting with his American counterpart Hillary Clinton at a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday. The two officials are set to discuss the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant; the US company Westinghouse is one of the bidders in the multi-billon crown tender. On Wednesday, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra met with his US counterpart Leon Panetta and signed an agreement giving Czech weapons manufacturers access to US Army tenders.
The Czech military is involved in the UN observer mission in Syria, Czech Radio said on Thursday quoting Lebanese press reports. The Czech Air Force reportedly provided three transport planes which brought nine vehicles to Beirut that are used by the observers in Syria. The UN observer team entered Syria on Monday where it is monitoring a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces in an attempt to end violence in the country.
A Prague court of appeals on Thursday ruled to reopen the case of businessman Tomáš Pitr, cancelling a 2006 verdict which sentenced him to five years in prison for tax fraud. Mr Pitr fled the country after the verdict, and was extradited from Switzerland earlier this month. Tomáš Pitr faces charges of tax evasion worth 51 million crowns which he allegedly committed in 1994. The court ruled he should remain in custody pending a new trial.
The head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš has asked the government to change its methods of evaluation of scientific work. Speaking at an academic forum in Prague on Thursday, Mr Drahoš said the methods, which were introduced in 2009, served to justify a “deliberate, wilful and irresponsible” attempt to eliminate large sections of the Academy of Sciences. The methods serve as a basis for the distribution of government grants. Mr Drahoš also criticized efforts to turn academic institutions and universities into “servants” of the private sector.
Prague City Hall has toned down its campaign to attract British “Olympic avoiders” to the Czech capital during the London Summer Olympics, the Czech daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Thursday. The campaign presents Prague as a destination where Londoners can take part in the “Prague games” events such as panoramathon, heavy-weight shopping, kafkarate, free-style kissing and others. However, Prague City Hall decided to drop two motifs – synchronized drinking and morning slalom, alluding to drinking and partying – over the UK’s ban of associating alcohol with sports in advertising.
The number of self-employment licences reached nearly two million by the end of March, up by over 40,000 compared to the same month last year, the news website tyden.cz reported quoting data from the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry. In 2012, some 11,500 new licences were issued by the authorities. Analyst stay the steady rise in the number of the self-employed is caused by lower tax rates compared to those of employees; also, many Czechs take out self-employment licences as a security provision in case they their jobs but are unlikely to actually start a business.
An elderly couple in the village of Zbyny, some 60 kilometres north of Prague, committed suicide to avoid losing their home, the news website novinky.cz reported on Thursday. Fire fighters who arrived in the early hours of Wednesday to put out the fire discovered the bodies of a 71-year-old woman and her 68-year-old husband along with a dead dog and several gasoline cans; a spokeswoman for the local police said they probably ended their lives to avoid the foreclosure of their home over the debts of their son.
Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori 2:6, 6:2, 6:4 in the third round of the Monte-Carlo Masters event on Thursday, and advanced to the tournament’s quaterfinals. Berdych, ranked seventh in the world, dropped two serves to lose the first set but hit back and wrapped up the game in two hours. In the next stage, the 26-year-old Czech will face world number four Andy Murray of the UK.
Public Affairs’ members of parliament are quitting the party en masse following the departure of deputy chairwoman Karolína Peake. Peake announced Tuesday evening that she had withdrawn her membership from Public Affairs, saying she disliked the destructive style with which Public Affairs presents itself. Within hours, six other Public Affairs members said they would join her in a new platform to support the government: Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš and Regional Development Minister Kamil Jankovský, as well as MPs Paggio, Navrátilová, Andrýsová, Vacek, Suchá and Rusnok. With four other MPs having left the party within the context of Vít Bárta’s corruption scandal and former education minister Josef Dobeš having quit last week, Public Affairs has now lost more than half of its original parliamentarians, creating an uncertain situation for the governing coalition.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas says the government has until Monday to secure a comfortable majority or call early elections. As of Wednesday morning, the number of MPs pledging support for the government was at 99. The prime minister declined to specify what number constituted a “comfortable majority”, made it clear that one or two votes in the 200-seat lower chamber was not enough. He also said that the cabinet would refuse to work with the remainder of Public Affairs if Vít Bárta, who was convicted of bribery last week, remained in their parliamentarians’ club. While allowing that anyone who agreed with the government’s policies could be in the coalition, Mr Nečas also emphasised that not a single line in the coalition’s policy statement would be changed.