Eight people have died of methanol poisoning from bootleg alcohol and two dozen are fighting for their lives in Czech hospitals. There is now growing concern for public safety as new cases are registered daily in different locations. Although two cases of methanol poisoning have appeared in central Bohemia the vast majority of cases are reported in Moravia. The health ministry has ordered inspections in cafeterias and restaurants around the country and the public has been warned not to consume unlabeled alcohol or spirits on tap. Police are still trying to trace the source of the contaminated liquor and it is not clear how much of it may be on the market or where it may surface. A number of suspect bottles confiscated by the police on Monday carried a Drak spirits producer label, but the company says the labels were fake. Three cases of methanol poisoning have been reported across the border in neighbouring Poland. Two people are reported to have died and a third has gone blind.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has expressed grave concern regarding the latest developments and wants a central crisis committee established in Prague to try and prevent further loss of life and damage to health. He has urged closer cooperation with the media and local crisis committees in spreading the message and taking effective preventive measures. Meanwhile the opposition Social Democrats have called for the dismissal of several ministers, saying the Nečas administration had miserably neglected its duty to protect public health.
The prime minister has come under fire for saying that support for Pussy
Riot and the Dalai Lama are harming the country’s interests and export
potential. The coalition party TOP 09 said on Tuesday that the views
expressed by the prime minister at the International Engineering Fair in
Brno were regrettable and could discredit the country.
Speaking to an audience of business leaders at the fair on Monday the Czech prime ministry said that while support for human rights must remain a top priority in Czech foreign policy, the false adoration of and support for the group Pussy Riot or the Dalai Lama were simply a fashionable trend that had nothing to do with supporting democracy and merely harmed the country’s exports.
TOP 09 leader and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has clearly distanced himself from the prime minister’s statement. In an interview for Tuesday’s Lidové Noviny, Mr. Schwarzenberg said he was horrified by the prime minister’s words and expressed concern about the fate of a government that placed economic interests above human rights. Mr. Schwarzenberg said he hoped no Czech foreign minister would ever pander to the superpowers in order to serve the country’s economic interests. Dictators must be treated the same regardless of their size, Mr. Schwarzenberg noted.
Economist Jan Švejnar, who was considered one of the hot candidates in the upcoming presidential elections, has announced he will not be running for office. Mr. Švejnar said in a press release on Tuesday that he wanted to pursue his academic and consultancy activities. The Czech-born US based economist ran for office in 2008 when he was beaten in a tight race by President Vaclav Klaus.
The head of the National Theatre Ondřej Černý was allegedly dismissed for poor financial management. At a press conference in Prague on Tuesday Deputy Culture Minister Martin Sankot said Mr. Černý had failed to draft a satisfactory 2013 budget on the funds earmarked for the theatre. Earlier Minister Alena Hanáková said the theatre head was being dismissed because she was not happy with the pace of the ongoing merger of the National Theatre and the Prague State Opera. Petitions are being signed in support of the director and the theatre’s management has called for the culture minister’s dismissal.
The government will meet to debate the 2013 budget on Wednesday. The budget is tailored to a 100 billion crown deficit which should bring the gap in public finances to under 3 percent of the GDP. Expenditures are projected at 1,185 billion crowns, revenues at 1,085. The proposed budget hangs on the approval of government proposed tax-hikes which parliament recently rejected and which the government sent back unrevised linked to a vote of confidence in the Nečas administration. The government is also expected to discuss measures taken in connection with the methanol poisoning scare.
A Prague court has revoked the 14 million crown bail for MP David Rath set by a lower instance court. The court ruled on the basis of an appeal by the state attorney on the case who argued that there were legal reasons to keep Rath in custody, among others the possibility that he might try to influence witnesses or flee from justice. The former central Bohemian governor is facing trial on corruption charges after being caught with an alleged 7 million crown bribe on his person.
Two Czechs have been arrested on spying charges in Greece. The men –aged 28 and 33 - were detained for taking photos and recording video footage of a Greek military base and an airport on Lemnos Island. The men said in their defense they had made the documentation for a computer game they were working on. They are to be transported to Lesbos Island where they will be questioned by a state prosecutor.