Czech speedskater Martina Sáblíková on Saturday claimed her first World Cup title of the season when she won a 5,000-metre event in Kazakhstan. The Olympic champion beat Germany’s Claudia Pechstein in second place, and Olga Graf of Russia, who finished third. The win in the season’s third event put Sáblíková to the lead of the World Cup’s standings in her category.
The Finance Ministry has announced that it is expecting the deficit for this year to reach five percent of the GDP, in comparison to last year’s 3.3 percent, due in large part to the recently approved church property restitution bill and problems with drawing of EU funds this year. In October, the ministry was still counting on an annual deficit of 3.2 percent, but Friday’s fiscal outlook shows a different prognosis.
Presidential candidates Jiří Dienstbier and Miloš Zeman met with the leadership of the Communist Party on Friday to ask for their support in the upcoming elections. Unlike the Civic Democrats or the TOP 09 party, the Communists have not nominated their own presidential candidate. The party’s leadership said that it would take them a week to deliberate and decide on who to support. This recommendation may influence the decision of Communist Party voters in the January election. Mr Dienstbier said that he considers himself to be the only real candidate for left-wing voters, so he felt it was natural to ask the Communist Party for support.
The Czech Republic voted against the Palestinian Authority's bid to upgrade its status at the UN to a non-member observer state. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that this position was in line with the Czech Republic's long standing policy on the issue. Eight other countries voted against the move, including the United States, Israel and Canada. The motion to grant Palestinian Authority non-member observer status was supported by 138 nations, while 41 abstained from voting. Leaders of the Czech Social Democrat Party and the Communist Party criticized the government for the decision to vote against Palestine’s new status. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Social Democrat Lubomír Zaorálek said that Czech foreign policy is incomprehensible.
A number of teachers from the Karlovy Vary region on Friday sent an open letter to the governor and regional council asking for them to consider replacing the new education councilor – Communist party member Václav Sloup. The teachers argue that the position of councilor for education should be given to someone from the education sector who has no affiliation with a political party. Earlier this week, Mr Sloup said that he would consider closing down a number of high schools in the region. Mr Sloup was politically active under communism, heading one of the dreaded border patrol units whose job it was to prevent people fleeing the country. Earlier this month, teachers and students in Southern Bohemia protested against a communist education councilor in their region.
Prague’s Municipal Court has found fugitive businessman Radovan Krejčíř guilty of tax evasion, passing an 11-year prison sentence and a three-billion-crown fine. Friday’s verdict issued in absentia is a combined sentence for Mr Krejčíř’s current and previous convictions for tax and securities fraud as well as embezzlement. Mr Krejčíř escaped from the Czech Republic in 2005 and has been living in South Africa since 2007, where he has applied for refugee status.
After two years of preparations, the Prague Stock Exchange switched to a different electronic trading system on Friday, causing some problems for traders and clients. Prague’s electronic securities trading migrated to the German Xetra trading system, linked up via the Vienna Stock Exchange during the previous night. According to the online news server iHned, there were numerous glitches in the first hours of trading, due to the limited capacities of the data link. Many people said that they could no longer see some stocks in their electronic portfolios. The problem was fixed before noon.
The anti-rocket system on the CASA military aircrafts that the Czech Defense Ministry purchased from a Spanish company is still not functional, the ministry informed on Friday. Testing of the planes was supposed to be completed by the end of the week, but the malfunction will prevent the planes from being used by the Czech mission in Afghanistan, as was originally planned. Other allied armies have already begun using the CASA aircrafts without the anti-rocket system. The purchase of the planes was highly controversial, and there is still an ongoing investigation into the former Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanová and her deputy over possible corruption.
Visitors of the many outdoor Christmas markets around the Czech Republic will not be able to enjoy the traditional rum-based hot drinks like punč and grog this holiday season. The authorities have announced that they will strictly enforce a law prohibiting non-licensed vendors from selling drinks with alcohol content higher than 15 percent. In the past, the police turned a blind eye to such practices at the festive Christmas markets, but following this year’s methanol-crisis which claimed 37 lives, they have decided to take a harder line. The sale of hot drinks will be restricted to mulled wine or tea.
Prague’s city council did not approve a change in the urban plan that would allow for trams to run along Wenceslas square up to Vinohradská street. The opposition Social Democrats and some Civic Democratic councilors voted against the change on Thursday, after the city assembly gave its approval earlier this week. The old tramline on Wenceslas square was suspended in the 1980’s.