The government opted on late Wednesday to partially lift a ban on spirits in the Czech Republic following a breakout of methanol poisoning this month that killed 26 people. Under the decision, effective Thursday following a statement by the health minister, hard liquor produced in the country before January 1, 2012 will be allowed back on the shelves. Any newly-produced hard alcohol will need new tax stamps; alcohol put into storage following the breakout of poisonings earlier this month will by contrast need certification or have to be destroyed. Proprietors have up to 60 days to provide the necessary documentation. The mass poisoning which broke out in mid-September is the worst such case in the Czech Republic in recent memory; around 30 people remain in hospital after having consumed tainted alcohol.
The Czech government approved a draft 2013 state budget on Wednesday evening that will allow for a 3% GDP deficit. The draft anticipates a 100-billion crown deficit which will require the passage of a package of tax changes, including higher VAT rates. These have proven controversial as six MPs from the senior governing Civic Democratic Party have joined the opposition on the issue. A working group has been formed in the party to resolve the dispute. Trade unions have also rejected the package, arguing that the financial risks of the proposed budget amount to 45 to 60 billion crowns and relies on legislation that has not yet been passed. The Chamber of Deputies must pass the budget bill for next year by December.
Shadow finance minister Jan Mládek of the Social Democratic Party claims the government and Finance Ministry are in gross violation of the law in accepting a budget proposal based on un-ratified legislation. Mr Mládek told a press conference on Thursday that the proposal was only pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, as the final draft would have to be entirely changed in order to each agreement with the rebel MPs from the Civic Democrats. A rejection of the planned VAT increase by those MPs could force a stopgap budget in 2013, which Mládek says would cost the country some 20 billion crowns and entail more expensive food and medicines for citizens.
The Czech National Bank has cut interest rates to a new record low. The bank’s benchmark rate fell by a quarter point to its lowest ever rate of 0.25%. The Lombard rate, used when lending money to commercial banks against securities as collateral, was cut by half to 0.75%. The discount rate, which applies to fines for unpaid loans and unpaid taxes, fell by 0.15 points to 0.1%. Economists expected the move due to the weak economy and the relatively strong crown. The Czech Republic has one of the lowest interest rates in the region. The European Central Bank´s benchmark rate for all euro-zone countries stands at 0.75%.
Prague’s metro line A will be out of service throughout the upcoming extended weekend. The entire length of the “green line” from Depo Hostivař to Dejvice will be closed while switches are changed in the Náměstí Míru and Dejvická stations. The closure was planned for a period when many Praguers will be out of town, but will nonetheless affect an estimated 50,000 people. Special tram and bus lines will be in place, including an X-A tram line which will mirror the metro line.
The number of new HIV patients in the Czech Republic grew nearly as much in the last eight months as in the previous year. According to records from the State Health Institute, 145 people were diagnosed with the virus between January and August compared with 153 new cases in 2011. The institute expects the year to close with more new cases than in the worst year to date, 2010, when 180 new cases of HIV appeared.
The director of the National Theatre in Brno has resigned, protesting underfunding. Daniel Dvořák, who has led the theatre since 2007, said the lack of funding was preventing its development and that attempts to run the institution politically rather than with expertise were ineffective. The City of Brno already opened a tender for Mr Dvořák’s position and he had intended to vie for it again. He added that poor funding and the lack of interest in city hall to resolve it were removing options that are standard for theatres elsewhere in Europe.
An historic Czechoslovak-built tank has been returned to Prague 63 years after being sold to Peru. The LTP 38 was designed specifically for Peru and its high-altitudes in the 1930s. The Czech Republic had long sought the donation of one of the eight remaining tanks, some of which reportedly served until the 1970s. The Czech Military History Institute eventually reached an agreement with the town of Mollendo, which owned one of the tanks, in exchange for funding for a new local library. The vehicles saw action in 1939, just months after they were purchased, in subverting a military coup, and also in the 1941 war with Ecuador.
The management of the Krkonoše National Park says a pack of five wolves has been spotted on the Czech side of the border. Locals sighted the animals in the eastern part of the mountains, which are the highest in the Czech Republic. Specialists believe they most likely came in from nearby Lusatia in Germany, where the critically endangered species was reintroduced. Wolves were a common part of the local wildlife in the mountains until the 19th century. The last animal was shot in 1842.
The National Gallery has opened an exhibition of the work of artist Theodor Pištěk in its collection of modern and contemporary art in Prague. The first floor of Veletržní palác will be dedicated to 60 years of paintings, sculptures and interior designs by the artist, who is perhaps best known for his Academy Award winning costumes for Miloš Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus. The exhibit, entitled “Ecce Homo”, will run until January 6.