Two more victims of methanol poisoning have been hospitalized in the region of Moravia-Silesia. A 60-year-old man was admitted in critical condition on Thursday morning. A 64-year-old man who had been drinking with him was also hospitalised later on, making the 33rd case of methanol poisoning in that region alone. With 17 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in September, Moravia-Silesia has been the region hardest hit. Starting Thursday, a ban was imposed on the sale of Tuzemák rum produced by Czech company Likérka Drak and distributed by Verdana, after 7,600 bottles of Tuzemák rum containing 50 percent of methanol were discovered in a warehouse belonging to Verdana.
Police have charged five Czechs they believe are members of an international gang of arms dealers. They were arrested in September on suspicion of having sold components of tanks and infantry vehicles over the previous two years, primarily to Poland. The organised crime department of the police says that a part of the illegal trade was being carried out through the head of a Czech company licensed to sell military technology. If convicted, the suspects face up to ten years’ imprisonment.
The Czech Republic has lost a long-running dispute over the designation of butter products. The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that the phrase “butter spread” could not be applied to products with the equivalent name in Czech because their milk-fat content is lower than required by EU norms. According to the European Commission, which brought the suit, only products with at least 80% milk-fat can be called butter, while Czech regulations require only a 31% milk-fat content. The product in question is considered a traditional speciality by some.
Hundreds of Olah Romanies have gathered in the north-eastern city of Ostrava to pay final respects to their “king”, Jan Lípa, who died on Monday aged 72. Guests arrived from around Central Europe and even the USA for the funeral, which was accompanied by music and discussions of his life, decrees and settled disputes. The king was buried with some of his favourite items, such as his hat and pack of cards, and bottles of wine and even money. The community will mourn for one year before electing a new king, expected to be one of Jan Lípa’s sons. The Olah community, which accounts for around 15 percent of Romanies living in the Czech Republic, is a relatively closed group which has preserved its traditions much more than other Romany groups.
Iraq is interested in purchasing small arms from the Czech Republic, according to the weapons manufacturer Česká zbrojovka. The company’s sales manager told the Czech Press Agency on Thursday that the recent Iraqi delegation to the Czech Republic, which was headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, showed interest in the company’s rifles, submachine guns and pistols. Iraqi representatives are also negotiating a gun servicing and training centre with the company. The main point of Maliki´s visit to Prague was to arrange the purchase of 28 Czech-made L-159 combat aircraft worth about one billion dollars. That contract has yet to be approved by the Iraqi government.
An appeals court has upheld the imprisonment of former MP Petr Kott, who is being charged with bribery along with former governor of Central Bohemia David Rath. The court concurred with the decision of a lower court to deny bail on the grounds that Mr Kott could commit further criminal acts or flee the country. In addition to Kott and Dr. Rath, the director of the Kladno hospital Kateřina Pancová has also been denied bail. Eight people were arrested in May after David Rath was caught receiving seven million crowns in cash from Kott and Pancová, which police believe was a bribe for manipulating public tenders.
President Václav Klaus pardoned two men this week on humanitarian grounds, halting their investigations. The president’s spokesman Radim Ochvat said that said that serious injuries had left the men incapable of comprehending the charges against them, and the state prosecutor had said he was therefore unable to prosecute them in accordance with the law. One of the men was charged with posing a public threat under the influence of drugs, the other with neglecting child support. As per a new constitutional amendment, the pardons were countersigned by the prime minister.
The Stop the Government initiative has announced a demonstration on November 17. The group of affiliated unions and civic associations says they want to call attention to the poor state of democracy in the Czech Republic, where they say social assurances are disappearing, education is worsening and the state is dysfunctional. Stop the Government organised one of the largest demonstrations in post-communist Czech history in April of this year, when an estimated 100 thousand people turned out. November 17 is a state holiday marking the end of the communist regime.
The governing Civic Democratic Party is considering moving back a vote on the government’s stabilisation package, which Prime Minister, and Civic Democratic chairman Petr Nečas, has tied to a vote of confidence. The prime minister himself has neither confirmed nor denied the move, however party insiders have indicated the vote may be postponed until after the party’s congress, where the leadership can vie for greater support. Several Civic Democrat MPs have sided with the opposition to oppose the bill, which entails increasing VAT rates by one percent.
A large majority of Czechs believe the country’s economic situation will be the same or worse in five years’ time, according to a poll by the STEM agency. The poll suggests that view is held by 85% of people, with 57% of respondents expecting further downturns. Only 15% of those polled expressed optimism about the economic future. STEM, which has carried out the poll since 1993, says public expectations for the future have never been grimmer than this year and last year.