Alexandr Vondra has announced he is stepping down as Czech defence minister. Mr. Vondra made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, saying he had lost the trust of voters, who did not re-elect him to the Senate in elections in October. He will officially take his leave at the end of next week. His position had previously been weakened by a scandal surrounding overspending on the Czech EU presidency in 2009, when he was deputy prime minister for European affairs. Mr. Vondra, who is 51, was a dissident and Charter 77 signatory and spent two months in jail in 1989 for organising an anti-communist demonstration.
In terms of personnel, the current government, headed by Petr Nečas, is the most unstable since the creation of an independent Czech Republic nearly 20 years ago. Since the government was appointed in July 2010, a full 12 cabinet ministers have departed. The second most changes were seen in the government of Miloš Zeman, which served from July 1998 to July 2002 and saw 10 ministers come and go.
The Chamber of Deputies approved next year’s draft budget in its first reading on Wednesday, when 79 of 152 deputies present voted for it. The budget envisages a deficit of CZK 100 billion, or just over USD 5 billion. The deficit should equal 2.9% of gross domestic product. A final reading of the draft budget is scheduled for December 19. Failure to approve it would lead to a provisional budget at the start of next year.
Speaking on Wednesday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that a recently approved church restitution bill would have an impact on the budget for this year, even though the state has not yet begun making payments to church organisations. He said that was because under European Union rules the CZK 59 billion would have to be accounted as a one-off outlay this year. Mr. Kalousek said the 2012 budget deficit could therefore reach 5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the projected 3.5 percent.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will make a brief visit to Prague on Monday in order to support a bid by the American company Westinghouse to complete the Temelín nuclear plant, Hospodářské noviny reported. The newspaper quoted a Czech diplomat as saying the US was intensifying its activities with regard to the lucrative contract. France’s Areva was ruled out of the tender by Temelín’s owner CEZ, but the company is fighting that decision in court. The only other name in the running is a consortium made up of Russia’s Atomstrojexport and Gidropress and the Czech firm Škoda JS.
The number of new cases of HIV registered in the Czech Republic this year is, at 198, the highest since records began following the discovery of AIDS in the mid 1980s. A doctor who works with HIV patients said that the number of fresh cases was on the rise because fear of contracting it had subsided and people were having more unprotected sex. Three in five of those identified as being HIV positive in 2012 had engaged in gay sex.
Three aspirants to the post of president who the Interior Ministry has barred from standing because the petitions they filed did not contain enough valid signatures – Tomio Okamura, Vladimír Dlouhý and Jana Bobošíková – have appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. Wednesday afternoon was the deadline for such submissions. There have been disagreements over the kind of sample method used by the Interior Ministry to calculate the number of invalid signatures.
The leading Czech film critic Eva Zaoralová was on Wednesday – her 80th birthday – named a member of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, officer category, and received a medal from France’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. Dr. Zaoralová is perhaps best known for her work with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, of which she was artistic director for several years. She is now the festival’s artistic adviser.
A footbridge by the train station in Plzeň has been named after Ivan Martin Jirous, a Czech poet and key underground figure who died last year. The honour was the initiative of three civic groups in the West Bohemian city. It will actually be named the Ivan Magor Jirous Bridge, in reference to the late writer and hell raiser’s nickname (Magor means madman).
The former Czech soccer international Tomáš Řepka has been released by České Budějovice. His contract was due to run until the summer but the club reached agreement with the combative defender on terminating his contract at the end of next month. After being sent off in a game against Jablonec last month, Řepka was dropped from the first team squad and began training on his own. The defender, who is 38, has previously played for Fiorentina, West Ham and Sparta Prague.