Czech Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra has told the Czech news agency, ČTK, he is in favour of Czech soldiers’ involvement in Afghanistan being extended to 2014. The mandate for their current presence there will expire at the end of 2012. Mr Vondra made the statement before arriving in Washington for talks with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. He did not go into details about the strength of the future contingent but allowed that helicopter crews could remain as well as training specialists, while Czech special forces would terminate their mission this year. The US itself wants to withdraw its forces by 2014 if local conditions allow ČTK notes. Currently the Czech Republic has some 600 troops in Afghanistan.
The defence minister also negotiated a treaty in Washington on Tuesday that will allow Czech companies to seek military orders in the United States. The agreement will give Czech contractors an equal position with American and European companies and may be signed in the spring. The treaty will also apply to security and rescue services and will allow Czechs to compete for commissions for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), among others. Poland signed a similar treaty with the United states in September of last year.
President Václav Klaus has attacked critics of planned higher education reforms, saying they were playing the academic freedom card insincerely. Speaking to Czech Radio on Tuesday, the president said he was outraged by the reactions of academics to the proposals, which he said were essential. The issue, he said, was about state schools that the state had the right to make decisions about, and academics should not fight against tuition while seeking independence from the state. Students and professors hold that the reforms limit the institutions’ freedom by increasing the influence that politics and business have on science. Deans of public colleges are discussing their concerns with the Education Minister Josef Dobeš on Tuesday.
Former diplomat and historian Miloš Pojar died unexpectedly on Monday, the website Lidovky.cz has reported. Mr Pojar was an editor for the publishing house of the Academy of Sciences and wrote a number of books on Judaism and Israel, but was banned from publishing his work during the Soviet occupation. After the fall of communism he served as the country’s first ambassador to Israel, a post currently held by his son, Tomáš. He was 71 years old.
The number of people who believe the current system promises a better future than the communist regime is at its lowest point since 1993. According to a January poll carried out by the STEM agency, only slightly more than half of the population think the current regime is better than the one before November of 1989. That percentage fell by five points since last year’s survey. Younger and more educated people were more likely to assess the current system positively, as were entrepreneurs and right-wing voters.
Police in Prague last year recorded the second lowest rate of homicide since 1990. The metropolis saw 29 cases of murder in 2011, of which 26 were solved. Only the previous year, 2010, saw fewer homicides, when 22 cases were investigated. The total number of punishable offences however rose in 2011 by roughly 10%. The majority of cases, 57%, were committed by repeat offenders, while first-time offenders were responsible for only 5% of solved crimes. Police also recorded a rise in wilful property damage while other property crimes, such as car theft, were down. Crime in Prague accounted for nearly a fourth of criminality in the Czech Republic.
The opposition Social Democratic Party has proposed six bills aimed at decreasing the indebtedness of Czech households. The series of bills looks to limit contractual fines, introduce an obligation to ask a debtor to pay before filing a lawsuit, and integrate orders for property seizures. The government says it is willing to discuss the legislation and is already considering some of the measures. The party says that Czech households owe more than a billion crowns and often end up in debt traps, one of the reasons for which they believe are the harsh conditions of debt collection.
The Club for Old Prague and neighbours at Hradčany in Prague have filed a complaint with the zoning commission against the refurbishment of a historical building to become the Václav Havel Library. The contested modifications to the 16th century building include primarily the scope of the cellar under the courtyard, which they say is overdesigned, superfluous and could endanger the stability of even the surrounding buildings. Neighbours are also concerned that the construction could open underground water sources.
Members of the government, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas and Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, have met in Prague with an Iraqi delegation including Iraq’s acting minister of defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi. On Monday they discussed the possible purchase of Czech-made L-159 fighter jets to Iraq, but said no final deal had been reached yet. Negotiations are to continue. The Iraqi minister confirmed his country’s, while Mr Vondra said he was “optimistic”. Mr al-Dulaimi also confirmed that Iraq was not only interested in older existing planes from Aero Vodochody, but also in commissioning new aircraft. Iraq is reportedly seeking to acquire around 20 planes for its military.
The district court for Prague 10 handed a doctor at Prague’s Royal Vinohrady Teaching Hospital an eight-month two-year suspended sentence and a two-year ban on working in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology. The ruling was in response to mistakes made during the birth of a baby in 2009 which left the newborn paralysed. The court said the doctor was present without proper attestation at what had been a complicated birth, stressing that he should have called in a colleague who had the required experience. According to commercial broadcaster TV Prima, the baby suffered brain damage as a result of the mistakes. The ruling has been appealed by the defendant.