Most political commentators have agreed that the Thursday night debate on Czech Television between the two presidential candidates – Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloš Zeman – ended in a draw. Mr Zeman tried attacking his opponent on a number of issues including his stance on the recent presidential amnesty, his opinion of the deportation of Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War Two, and the mistakes the foreign minister makes when speaking Czech. Mr Schwarzenberg fended off the criticism without changing his previously held positions on the issues. The candidates are scheduled to appear in two more televised debates and one more radio debate before Czechs vote in the second round of the presidential election next Friday.
Czech tennis player Radek Štepánek threw everything he had at world no. 1 Novak Djoković in their third-round match at the Australian Open, coming to the net on 67 occasions to try and dominate. But it wasn’t enough against the Serbian, who is the two-time defending champion. The match lasted two hours and 22 minutes and the final score was 6:4, 6:3, 7:5. Štepánek’s teammate Tomáš Berdych on the other hand had no trouble winning his third –round match against Jürgen Melzer. The only Czech left in the tournament, Berdych will face the South African Kevin Anderson in the fourth round.
Friday is the last day that Czech citizens can submit written requests for absentee ballots for next week’s second round of the presidential election. In-person requests that can be submitted to the local administration offices in one’s home district by next Wednesday. Absentee ballots are meant for people who plan on voting in the upcoming elections outside of their permanent residency district.
The Education Minister Petr Fiala met with regional governors to discuss planned changes to the financing of education that would give all regions the same amount of money per student depending on the field of study. Currently, there are different financing rules for all the regions. Mr Fiala is hoping to equalize the level of education in different regions by unifying the financing structure. The regional governments will form a working group that will work with the minister on the details of the changes.
The Prague branch of the Civic Democratic party voted on Friday to renew membership for the former Prague mayor Pavel Bém. Mr Bém suspended his party membership last March after a scandal broke out over secret phone calls between him and a lobbyist Roman Janoušek from 2007. The conversations were made public in the Czech press causing speculations that Mr Bém was influenced by the lobbyist in decisions concerning a number of public tenders. Representatives of the Prague Civic Democrats said they see no reason to keep a high-ranking member out of the party when there is no concrete proof of wrongdoing.
Dozens of people paid tribute to cyclists and pedestrians who have died in Prague as a result of car accidents by participating in a communal bike ride across the city on Thursday afternoon. Similar bike rides are organized by the civic association Auto*mat once a month to promote cycling and safer roads in the capital. This particular event was dedicated to a former member of the association Jan Bouchal, who was hit by a car in 2006 while riding his bike and died from the injuries. Auto*mat is planning to install a memorial to Bouchal and other victims of car accidents, which was designed by the contemporary Czech sculptor Krištof Kintera.
The coalition government, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, survived a vote of no confidence on Thursday evening. The opposition initiated the vote in reaction to the recent presidential amnesty which had been counter-signed by the premier, which saw the release of more than 7,000 prisoners and halted, or threatens to halt, a number of major corruption and economic crime cases. The opposition was able to find support of 92 MPs - far short of the 101 needed to bring down the government. The attempt was the fifth by the opposition to topple the centre-right cabinet.
The Health Ministry has made available 9,000 packages of Tamiflu in response to the flu epidemic hitting the country. One-hundred-and-thirty five people have been hospitalized in serious condition and the ministry has revealed that the flu this season has claimed 23 lives. Last week, the ministry made available 1,440 packs of the antivirotic Relenza in the keeping of the General Teaching Hospital in the Czech capital. Three-thousand packs of Tamiflu will go to the General Teaching Hospital, while further packages of the medicine will be delivered to other facilities across the country. The flu epidemic in the Czech Republic is expected to peak in the coming days or weeks, the chief hygiene officer has said.
In related news, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, the chairman of
coalition partner TOP 09 and candidate in the second round of the
presidential election, has said he was shocked by the amnesty declared
month by Václav Klaus. Speaking in the lower house ahead of the vote of
confidence on Thursday, Mr Schwarzenberg made clear he was most concerned
with article 2 of the amnesty, which affects unresolved criminal cases
lasting eight years or longer. Mr Schwarzenberg said he learned of the
amnesty only through the president’s televised speech on January 1 and
criticized the prime minister for not fully informing the cabinet in
advance; he suggested it was a sign of mistrust. Along with the vote of no
confidence, the opposition is pushing a proposal that would express
fundamental disagreement with the presidential amnesty.
Fellow presidential candidate Miloš Zeman (not a member of Parliament) has also come out against the amnesty.
Czech tennis players have had a rough time at the Australian Open, many of their campaigns to progress far into the tournament being cut short. Eighth-seeded Petra Kvitová was stunned by Great Britain’s Laura Robson in an epic three-setter that ended at 12:30 am local time. The match went three sets and came down to a tie-break: the final score was 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 in Robson’s favour. The two had never met in competition before. Other Czechs who lost include Lukáš Rosol and Lucie Šafářová, while the defending doubles champion from last year, Radek Štepánek and doubles partner Leander Paes, were defeated in the first round.
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