Czechs are voting in the country’s first direct presidential elections. They are choosing from nine candidates to elect a successor to the outgoing president, Vaclav Klaus, whose second term in office ends in March. Polling stations are open from 2pm until 10 pm on Friday and from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 25-26. The turnout in these elections is expected to be higher than usual.
A regional court dealing with cases which fall under the presidential amnesty has halted the prosecution of Judge Jiří Berka who is charged with criminal conspiracy and abuse of office in connection with several suspect bankruptcies. All charges against the judge have been dropped and the court moreover ruled that he should be paid five million crowns in compensation for lost wages. Judge Berka faced ten years in prison for assisting extensive property crime. The state attorney is expected to appeal the decision.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas will face a no-confidence vote in the lower house next Thursday. The proposal has been tabled by the opposition Social Democrats in connection with the controversial amnesty declared by President Klaus and counter-signed by the prime minister. Under Czech law it is the government, not the president, which is ultimately responsible for the decision. The amnesty has come under fire for being too broad and halting high-profile prosecution cases involving corruption, abuse of office and embezzlement.
Members of the public and the arts world gathered at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre at midday on Friday to pay their last respects to the legendary Czech actress Jiřina Jirásková who died on Monday at the age of 81. This was followed by a private memorial service for invited guests which was broadcast live by Czech public television and later in the afternoon Cardinal Dominik Duka celebrated a mass for the late actress at Prague’s Týn Church. Ms. Jirásková spent 60 years on stage at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre and starred in dozens of Czech films.
There has been a significant increase in the number of flu cases around the country. The number of people admitted to hospitals with the H1N1 strain of the flu has risen several-fold with the Plzen region reporting an epidemic and the Moravian and Silesian regions reporting a 32 percent increase in the number of flu patients. Many hospitals have closed their doors to visitors and the health authorities are urging elderly and chronically ill people to get a flu shot while there is still time. Only around five percent of Czechs get vaccinated against the flu.
Polish authorities have confirmed that Czech-made bootleg liquor laced with large amounts of methanol was behind the deaths of three Polish people living close to the common border. The tragedy occurred on Christmas day when three members of a Polish family, mother, son and daughter, drank liquor from a bottle that they’d previously bought in the Czech Republic. The highly publicized scam, in which bootleggers used the deadly methanol in place of ethanol to save money, has claimed 39 lives in the Czech Republic. 70 people have been charged in connection with the case.
President Vaclav Klaus has signed into law a bill which will raise the salaries of judges and state attorneys. The bill sets a new legal framework for the calculation of salaries in 2013 after the former framework was abolished by the Constitutional Court. In line with the new law judges will receive 2.7 times the average wage in the public sector.
The inhabitants of Plzen, western Bohemia, are voting in a referendum on the construction of a huge shopping mall in the city centre. Local activists have been campaigning against the planned 35,000 square metre retail and office complex on the grounds that it will damage many small local businesses, harm the environment and increase pollution. A court enforced a referendum after Plzen city hall dismissed the idea. If the referendum goes against the planned mall, the city council will have to do its best to stop the project. This will not be an easy task since the investor has already bought a huge plot of land on which to build it.
Czech retail sales dropped by 1.8 percent year on year in November after a 2.2 percent growth seen in October, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Friday. The fall is ascribed to lower car sales and lower sales of household equipment. Food sales continued to drop both in specialised and non-specialised stores and after thirteen months of continual growth sales of clothing and footwear also dipped slightly. Seasonally adjusted sales decreased by 0.6 percent in real terms against October.
A poll among Prague’s inhabitants shows that the vast majority of them are happy with the state of public transport following radical changes effected in September. In a survey conducted by the Ropid agency 93 percent of respondents expressed varying degrees of satisfaction while only 7 percent of respondents were openly critical of the changes. The overhaul of public transport last September included changes to buss and tram lines particularly in the suburbs.