Methanol poisoning claimed another victim on Sunday evening, bringing the number of deaths in the country to 21. A 47-year-old woman from the eastern city of Český Těšín died after two days of hospitalisation. More than 35 people remain in hospital in different parts of the country, though most of the cases have occurred in Moravia. A Prague hospital admitted a second person from the capital for methanol poisoning on Sunday. More than 30,000 inspections have been carried out in bars, restaurants and street stalls since Friday evening. Police have charged 23 people around the country in connection with the outbreak
Reports of methanol poisoning also emerged from Slovakia on Sunday, with four people hospitalised in the eastern city of Prešov. The patients had reportedly been drinking hard alcohol produced in the Czech Republic at a party. Six others who attended the party were admitted to hospital with headaches, but have not been diagnosed with methanol poisoning. In the meantime, Polish authorities have banned the sale of spirits from the Czech Republic.
Health Minister Leoš Heger addressed some of the legal ramifications of the ban on spirits on Monday, allowing that the currently indefinite prohibition may well give rise to legal battles. The crisis team looking at the impact of the ban has not yet dealt with the question of indemnity for alcohol producers. The health minister says 20 million bottles of spirits are lying in storage following the ban, which took effect last Friday. Mr Heger noted that exports have not been restricted and the ban is wholly on retailers’ sale to consumers. The state is also negotiating with the Norwegian manufacturer of an antidote, fomepizole, thirty doses of which have been donated. Heger has said he hopes the ban will be lifted in less than a month, but has not ruled out the possibility that it may take longer.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg arrived in the Republic of Georgia on Monday for a two-day trip to oversee preparations for the country’s parliamentary elections in October. Mr Schwarzenberg is joined by four other EU foreign ministers – from Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania – all members of an informal Friends of Georgia group, which will meet with their Georgian counterpart and offer objective support. The Czech Foreign Minister told a press conference in Tbilisi that they would be recording facts and hoped to remain unbiased, adding that the best friend is one that talks about the problems he sees.
Facilities for the homeless are being used by nearly 11,500 people, the Czech Statistical Office reports. This estimate showed the largest number of homeless in the region of Moravia-Silesia (2,574) which more than doubled that of Prague (1,254). According to the count, the largest demographic group of homeless people were unmarried Czech males aged 45 to 49 with minimal education. Less than 22% of the clients of social facilities were women, the largest group of which were aged 20 to 24. The office notes that the actual number of homeless could actually be up to three times higher, as many live on the streets or in squats.
The polling agency PPM Factum suggests that presidential candidate Jan Fischer was most aided by the decision of economist Jan Švejnar not to run. Former prime minister Fisher enjoyed a 5.7% rise in support after Mr Švejnar’s announcement in August, and is currently polling at 27.7%, according to the agency. Former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman is in second place in the survey with 22.7% of the hypothetical vote, followed at a large distance by his former party’s candidate Jiří Dienstbier, with 6.9%. Artist and tattoo aficionado Vladimír Franz, which the pollsters call a protest candidate, has also gained strongly to 6.6% - more than the results for the candidates of the two main governing parties.
The STEM agency, meanwhile, has released the results of its monitoring of politicians’ popularity. The poll suggests that recent problems regarding vehicle registration, the dismissal of the police president and discussed tax increases have impacted on several, primarily cabinet, politicians. Prime Minister Petr Nečas, Interior Minister Jan Kubice and Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek all reached their lowest levels yet. The most favourable politicans were Social Democrat Jiřím Dienstbierem followed by former justice minister Jiří Pospíšil, Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka, and speaker of the lower house Miroslava Němcová.
President Václav Klaus has vetoed an amendment to the criminal code aimed at relieving overcrowded prisons. The president said that while the effort to resolve the problem was commendable, provisions such as allowing prison governors to grant early paroles were destructive of the justice system. He also criticised a measure allowing child support debtors to have their drivers’ licences revoked instead of facing jail time, which he said was nonsensical and counterproductive. Mr Klaus said the problem of prison overcrowding should be resolved using existing laws and by changing judicial practices.
The physical work of renaming the international airport in Prague after the late president Havel began on Monday. Large panels bearing the new name Václav Havel Airport Prague (Letiště Václava Havla Praha in Czech) were being mounted in the three main terminals and on the arrivals runway. The official name change and accompanying ceremony is planned for October 5, which would be Mr Havel’s 76 birthday. The idea to rename the airport after the last Czechoslovak and first Czech president’s was launched in the days following his death last December, and was petitioned by tens of thousands of people.
The heads of the Prague transit authority are to meet on Monday to discuss the selection of the new director. The former head of the Public Transport Company (DPP), Vladimír Lich, was unexpectedly sacked in mid-August and was replaced by interim director Magdalena Češková. Neither Lich nor Češková are expected to be reappointed. DPP is the largest company controlled by Prague City Hall. The selection committee for the new chief will be made up of city hall and company representatives.