Prague City Transport is temporarily reducing the number of trams and busses in operation. A spokesman for the company said this was in response to lower demand at the start of the year, when the number of passengers regularly drops by about 10 percent. Between now and February 17th tram intervals will be extended from ten to twelve minutes, and from five to six on the main routes. Bus lines will also have longer intervals.
Persistent rain has resulted in local flooding in north-western Bohemia. Many villages in the Plzen, Karlovy Vary and Usti nad Labem regions are on high flood alert and firemen have been pumping water from gardens and cellars. Several smaller roads in the area have had to be closed to traffic. Although water levels have now stopped rising meteorologists are predicting more rain in the coming days.
Presidential candidate Miloš Zeman is widely perceived as the winner of a one-on-one television debate with his main rival Jan Fischer. Both experts and the public gave Mr. Zeman higher marks, saying he had appeared more confident, more at ease and better prepared than his rival. The two former prime ministers, who have been running neck to neck in recent polls, were also given questions in English and Russian to test their language skills. The debate organized by commercial TV Prima Family was tailored according to presidential debates in the US.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has rejected as unfounded safety concerns over the planned completion of the Temelin nuclear power plant saying the country fully adheres to all international safety norms. In an interview for the Austrian magazine Profil, Mr. Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic would not backtrack on its plans to build two more nuclear reactors at Temelin. He dismissed safety concerns stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster as irrelevant saying that the last tsunami the Czech lands experienced would have been about 500 million years ago and it was unlikely to occur for several thousand more years.
Liquor sales are reported to have dropped by 10 percent in the wake of the methanol poisonings. According to the head of the Union of Spirits Producers Petr Pavlik, 2012 was the worst year for Czech spirits producers since 1990. Czechs are not only consuming less spirits in pubs and restaurants, they are also shunning home liquor brands in favour of costlier imported labels and drinking more wine and beer. Vodka sales in particular are significantly lower.
A recently amnestied prisoner has been charged with the death of a 55-year-old man. The suspect has been charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm resulting in death. The victim was found dead with facial wounds and other injuries. Two other amnestied prisoners have also been arrested after stealing money from a local bar within hours of being released. The broad amnesty declared by President Vaclav Klaus on January 1st has been widely criticized both by the government and opposition. According to the Justice Ministry it may relate to an estimated 32,000 people.
A 32-year-old man drowned in the Morava River in Olomouc after taking a dive from a bridge in order to impress his two female companions. The trio had been drinking at a bar nearby prior to the incident. Two officers who were in the vicinity tried in vain to save the man and one of them nearly lost his own life in the rain-swollen river. Divers later found the man’s body several miles downstream.
A derelict building in the centre of Beroun collapsed in the early hours of Saturday. Fears that there could be squatters buried under the debris proved unfounded, although firemen sifting through the wreckage found personal belongings, bottles and cigarette butts. According to a police spokeswoman the building collapsed due to long years of neglect and the present adverse weather conditions. It had been raining heavily in the area for several days.
The Czech Constitutional Court on Friday unanimously rejected a request to postpone the country’s first direct presidential elections, and confirmed that the vote will take place on the originally planned dates; the first round of voting will be held on January 11 and 12, the second two weeks later. The request came from Senator Tomio Okamura whom the Interior Ministry refused to register as candidate. Mr Okamura demanded the election be postponed, and filed a complaint against the ministry’s decision. The Constitutional Court is yet to rule on Mr Okamura’s complaint itself; however, the court said he would not be allowed to stand in the election itself. Reacting to the court’s decision, Senator Okamura said the verdict would create doubts about the election and its legitimacy. The Constitutional Court on Friday also rejected complaints by three other people who were not registered as candidates for the election.
The presidential candidates have welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court to hold the election on the originally planned dates. Jan Fischer said the decision was good news for Czech citizens, while Táňa Fischerová said she considered the decision wise. For his part, Přemysl Sobotka believes the verdict was appropriate, as people had been getting nervous about whether or not the election would take place, while Jiří Dienstbier said he had expected the court to reject the request to postpone the election. Karel Schwarzenberg said he was glad the vote would take place as originally planned, adding he hoped the decision would not undermine the election’s legitimacy. Nine candidates are in the running.