The head of the VZP insurance company, Pavel Horák, and the head of the firm’s administrative board, Marek Šnajdr, have stepped down. The Health Ministry had been pushing for changes in the VZP’s top management for some time, allegedly over a poor running of the company and a failure to communicate with the ministry. Eighteen of 20 members on the administrative board elected Zdeněk Kabátek to take over at the helm; seven were against and two abstained. Deputy Health Minister Petr Nosek, meanwhile, replaces Marek Šnajdr as the head of the board.
Fire fighters had to attend to a fire in an industrial zone in Rudná near Prague on Monday, in which chlorine and phosgene were released. Two people had to be treated for inhalation. The chemicals were not released outside affected areas of the plant. The fire was called in around noon and was put out six hours later. Damage has been estimated at around 20 million crowns.
Prague’s House of Light is offering free anonymous testing for HIV throughout the final week of November. The annual drive to try to curb the spread of the deadly virus, which leads to AIDS, is part of the Art for Life campaign. So far this year the public has donated 160,000 crowns towards HIV prevention.
In more detail, disqualified candidate Tomio Okamura made clear at a press briefing on Monday that he was willing to go as far as the Constitutional Court over the Interior Ministry’s decision to invalidate more than 26,000 signatures in his favour, putting him below the 50,000 threshold. He has currently opted to petition the Supreme Administrative Court over the Interior Ministry’s decision. Ministry officials came under criticism for adding two separate counts of questionable signatures rather than averaging them. The senator made clear, however, in his view the only adequate step would be for all signatures in support of the 11 presidential candidates to be checked. At his briefing on Monday, Mr Okamura maintained that peoples’ rights were being trampled on for having made a mistake (such as leaving out an address when filling in the forms). The recently-elected senator is being represented by well-known lawyer Klára Samková.
The former head of the Prague City Police force, Vladimír Kotrouš, pleaded guilty in court on Monday, confirming that last year he accepted a bribe from Josef Jíša, the owner of a car service company. The former police chief was caught last November with a bribe of 150 thousand crowns; he alleged that he had received the funds on the promise he would help Mr Jíša’s firm gain a contract with the municipal force. Mr Kotrouš explained, as motivation for his deed, that his family had gotten into unexpected financial difficulty.
Czech President Václav Klaus reappointed Mojmír Hampl and Vladimír Tomšík members of the Czech National Bank governing board on Monday. They will also stay in the posts of vice-governors. Their first six-year term runs out on December 1. The seven-member Bank Board has a governor, two vice-governors and four members. Messrs. Hampl and Tomšík were first appointed by Mr Klaus to the Bank Board as of December 1, 2006. The Board determines the country´s monetary policy and makes decisions on fundamental monetary policy measures. The national bank also supervises the entire financial market including banks, insurance companies and the capital market.
Eleven people – four of them prison service guards at the Heřmanice prison house in Ostrava – have now been charged in connection with the theft of copper, a police spokeswoman said on Monday. A police raid took place at the prison a day earlier. Those charged are believed to have been involved in scam practices at a nearby scrap metal yard from which they made millions of crowns. None of the suspects has been remanded in custody; those employed by the prison have been let go. In view of the ongoing investigation the police have released only basic details.
Former MEP Jana Bobošíková, one of three presidential candidates that the Interior Ministry disqualified from running in January’s presidential election, has asked the ministry to do a recount after its method of calculating invalid signatures was questioned by experts. The ministry took two samples of the total amount of signatures in support of each candidate, and verified their validity. It then added the two error rates and deducted it from the total number of signatures instead of producing an average error rate. If that had been done, Ms. Bobošíková would have remained in the race. The two other disqualified candidates would not have passed the 50,000 signature margin; even so, economist Vladimír Dlouhý has already said he will contest the ministry’s decision in court; Senator Tomio Okamura confirmed the same. There are fears that protracted court proceedings could threaten the planned term of the first direct presidential election scheduled for January 11-12.
The number of fatalities in the Czech Republic from poisoned alcohol – related to an outbreak which began in mid-September – has reached 37. The spate of poisonings in the country, largely in Silesia and Moravia, began after bootleg liquor containing lethal levels of methanol was released onto the market. Doctors confirmed that the latest patient to die was a man in his 50s who had been hospitalised in Brno. Officials have repeatedly appealed to Czechs not to drink hard alcohol of unknown origin (meaning bottles produced this year lacking newly-issued excise stamps).
Some 150 people attended a demonstration outside the Greek embassy in Prague on Monday in support of two Czechs (Martin Pezlar and Ivan Buchta) detained in Greece over alleged spying. Organisers handed a petition signed by 21,000 people to the embassy, calling for Messrs. Pezlar and Buchta’s release. The Czech Foreign Ministry was also to be given a copy. The organisers read a brief statement in which they called the charges against the suspects, who work for a Czech software company, unsubstantiated and voiced the conviction that the two men were innocent. The two Czechs were arrested on Lemnos island on September 9 for allegedly not heeding ban and photographing a military area; if found guilty of espionage, the duo could be sentenced to between five and 20 years in prison. Last week, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas discussed the case with his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaris.
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