Some 400 members of the country’s Romany community on Saturday attended the a Romany pilgrimage at the Holly Hill near Olomouc in Moravia, one of Czech Catholics’ most scared sites. The event, held for the fourth time, included a procession to the top of the hill where a Romany priest served a mass in the Basilica of Virgin Mary, as well as performances by various folklore groups.
Around 200 people gathered on Saturday in the east Bohemian town of Trutnov to protest against plans to explore shale gas deposits in the area, the news agency ČTK reported. Organizers said the rally was also held in support of local mayors who oppose mining companies which push for exploration of local deposit of shale gas. Some 30,000 people signed a petition against those plans, the organizers said.
The Czech police say they have tracked down the top of the distribution network of methanol-laced bootleg liquor. The head of a special police team investigating illegal alcohol producers, Václav Kučera, said on Friday the core of the network was located in the Zlín region in the eastern Czech Republic, with some of the main distributors operating in the Moravian-Silesian region which was worst affected by methanol poisonings.
In related news, the police discovered some 6,000 litres of suspicious liquid in a warehouse complex in the north-eastern city of Opava on Thursday. The authorities are now waiting for the results of tests to confirm whether the liquid was used in the production of bootleg liquor. The warehouse is used by a firm from Ostrava which deals, among other things, in windshield washer fluids that contains anti-freeze. No connection between the firm and the production of bootleg liquor has been established so far, the police said. Twenty-three people have been arrested to date in connection with the methanol crisis.
The European Commission on Friday welcomed the government-imposed ban on exports of spirits with higher than 20 percent volume of alcohol made in response to the methanol crisis. The Czech Health Ministry issued the immediate ban on Thursday night under pressure from the commission which threatened to impose their own ban that could last for up to two months, arguing consumers in other EU countries have the right to the same level of protection against methanol-laced spirits as those in the Czech Republic. Future lifting of the ban will however have to be consulted with the European Commission, a spokesman for the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy said.
Russia on Friday became the third country – after Poland and Slovakia – which banned imports of Czech spirits. The move came a day after the Czech government halted all exports of Czech-made and Czech-bottled beverages with higher than 20 percent volume of alcohol. The Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s chief hygiene officer, Gennady Onischenko, as saying that in their experience, whenever goods are banned in Europe, they inevitably find their way to Russia.
Czech spirits producers have come up with their own suggestions on how to end the state-imposed prohibition of hard liquor. At a news conference on Friday, members of the Union of Spirits Producers and Importers said the authorities should ban sales of spirits by firms in whose products dangerous levels of methanol were found while lifting the ban for products with certified origin. Products whose origin cannot be identified should also be pulled off the market. The producers also suggest that a coordination body should be established to oversee the regulation of the market.
Speaking after a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said the Czech army’s chemical warfare unit could take part in a possible allied intervention in Syria. Ms Clinton acknowledged the offer and expressed gratitude that the Czech embassy in Damascus had taken over US consular agenda in the country, Mr Schwarzenberg added. At the meeting, the officials also discussed the Czech-US treaty on the protection of investments which Czech officials would like to amend. During his US trip, the Czech foreign minister will also attend a session of the UN general assembly.
Czech trade unions on Friday criticized the draft of the state budget for 2013. Union leader Jaroslav Zavadil said the draft’s most serious shortcoming was that both its revenues and expenditures were based on legislation that has not yet come into effect. The draft state budget includes a deficit of 100 billion crowns, or 2.9 percent of GDP. However, the draft is based on the assumption that the Czech GDP will grow by around 1 percent next year, and that new tax legislation will come into effect in January 2013. However, trade union leaders said the deficit could in reality amount up to 160 billion crowns.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Friday said he would not meet with trade union boss Jaroslav Zavadil until he apologizes for his comment in which he said Mr Nečas’ government was the worst the country had since 1950. Mr Nečas said the comment was outrageous as it compated his cabinet to communists governments which killed its political opponents. Mr Zavadil later said he would have chosen different words.