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.
Hundreds of people came to Prague’s Strašnice crematorium on Friday to pay their last respects to the popular Czech actor Radoslav Brzobohatý who died last week at the age of 79. The funeral service was attended by the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka, as well as a number of Czech actors, singers and other artists. Radoslav Brzobohatý, who passed away on September 12, a day before his 80th birthday, appeared in more than 70 films during his long career, including the acclaimed movies All My Compatriots from 1968 and the Ear from 1970.
Viktoria Plzeň beat Portugal’s Academica Coimbra 3:1 in Plzeň on Thursday in their opening game of Group B of UEFA’s Europa League. Plzeň were losing 0:1 after the first half but scored three times in the second to win their first three points in the competition. The other Czech team which qualified for this season’s Europa League, Sparta Prague, lost 2:1 to Olympic Lyonnais in France on Thursday night.
The government has asked the Health Ministry to halt the export of alcohol products from the Czech Republic due to the on-going outbreak of methanol poisonings. The move, which affects spirits produced and bottled in the Czech Republic, has come in response to threats from the EU on Wednesday to either prohibit exports or face a ban on alcohol imports from the union. Health Minister Leoš Heger and Finance Minister Miroslav Kaloušek said they understood the EU’s cause for concern, as the poisonings could not be seen as a local affair on a collective market. Methanol poisoning has so far claimed the lives of 23 people in various parts of the Czech Republic. Another three people were hospitalised with signs of poisoning in recent days.
Meanwhile, the Czech government intends to lift the temporary ban on hard alcohol on September 26. A special meeting of the ministries of health, agriculture, trade and finance on Wednesday night approved new measures to allow the distribution of newly produced spirits and release of the bottles that were seized last Friday. The primary solution is the printing of new, more modern duty stamps on bottles of alcohol and safety certification for the products. The ministries have been ordered to submit an analysis of the activities of state authorities, inspections and the police in fighting black market alcohol sales in the Czech Republic.
The European Spirits Organisation has complained about the order to re-issue duty stamps and called on the government to end the prohibition. The current system of duty stamps, they say, does not impede counterfeiting or the black market, as the stamps are easy to falsify, are often reused and their absence on bottles overlooked. The government imposed the ban on beverages with an alcohol content of more than 20% on September 14. The prohibition is reportedly costing the government 25 million crowns a day in lost tax revenues.
The European Parliament will open a discussion on the so-called “Beneš decrees”, which resulted in the expulsion of the Czechoslovak German and Hungarian populations and the seizure of their property after WWII. The discussion will be based on a Hungarian petition against the 2007 decision of the Slovak National Council declaring that the decrees are immutable. The parliament has asked Bratislava to send delegates to explain the circumstances around the declaration, which some Hungarian and other MEPs have called discriminatory. The Czech parliament issued a similar declaration in 2002.
The first ever trial of terrorist suspects in the Czech Republic has begun in Prague. Four Dagestanis, two Bulgarians and one citizen of Moldova are accused of counterfeiting documents with the intent of aiding terrorist activities from 2008 to 2010. According to the State Attorney Petr Boš, the defendants falsified dozens of documents for Dagestani terrorists who were staying in Germany. Four of the seven allegedly knew that the documents would end up in the hands of terrorists. Most of the defendants refused to testify on Wednesday. One man admitted his involvement, but denied that he was part of an organized group, stating that he was simply a middleman. All the defendants denied links to terrorists in the Russian Republic of Dagestan. The hearings will continue on Thursday and Friday.