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.
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.
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.
Officials at the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute have issued a warning over icy conditions expected throughout the country in the coming hours. Pedestrians and motorists have been asked to proceed with the caution. The warning went into effect at noon on Thursday and will last until 11 pm local time on Friday evening.
The government has approved a proposal to make 16 January a legislatively recognized day commemorating Jan Palach. A student at Charles University, Jan Palach lit himself on fire in 1969 in protest of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led troops. Palach died of his injuries on 19 January. He became one of the best known symbols of protest against the invasion and the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Lawmakers decided not to make Jan Palach Day an official public holiday for financial reasons. Currently 12 public holidays are observed in the Czech Republic.
In related news, Czech citizens living abroad will be able to begin voting in the presidential election a day before their compatriots at home. Around 7,200 Czechs have registered to vote outside of the Czech Republic, which they will be able to do at 102 embassies and consulates around the world. The first ballots in this historic election will be cast in Brazil and on the west coast of the US starting at 2pm local time. Voting abroad should finish at the same time as in the Czech Republic, on Saturday at 2pm Central European time.
Hockey club Třinec has a chance to reach second spot in the Extraliga if players can clinch a win on Thursday against league leaders Plzeň on Thursday evening. Třinec is currently in third place behind Zlín and 11 points behind the leaders. To earn three points, however, the club will have to beat Plzeň on home ice.
Poisoned alcohol has claimed the life of a Czech in the region of Olomouc – the first methanol-related death in the Czech Republic in 2013. The news was revealed by the country’s chief hygiene officer Vladimír Valenta. The man was found dead in his home on 9 January – the 39th fatality related to poisoned alcohol since an initial outbreak of poisoning that began in September of last year after thousands of litres of tainted liquor were smuggled onto the market. The police estimated that roughly 5,000 litres of methanol-spiked alcohol remain in private homes. The country’s health minister has repeatedly warned members of the public not to consume spirits of unknown origin.
In related news, the regional court in Liberec has halted a criminal case against two former managers at Agroplast suspected of illegal arms sales. The case against Petr Pernička and Zbyněk Švejnoha had been underway for more than nine years and came under the recent amnesty declared by the president. The prosecution had claimed the defendants sold weapons without a license between the years 1994 and 1999; had they been found guilty each would have faced up to eight years in prison.
The Constitutional Court has rejected the last part of a legal complaint put forward by disqualified presidential candidate Tomio Okamura including proposed changes to the constitution and legislation related to the country’s first direct presidential election. The decision means no unexpected hurdles will prevent the first round of the election on Friday and Saturday from going ahead. Voters will choose from nine official candidates; if none surpasses the 50 percent threshold in the first round, the two top candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 25 and 26.
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