Polling stations across the country opened at 2 PM on Friday for Czechs to vote in the second round of the historical first direct presidential election. Voters will be choosing between former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman and the current foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg. Polls will close at 10 PM on Friday and will open again between 8 AM and 2 PM on Saturday; results of the vote are expected to come in on Saturday afternoon. Czech citizens abroad began voting in the presidential runoff at Czech embassies and consulates first in the Americas, followed by Australia and East Asia. Polls in European and African countries will be open during the same hours as in the Czech Republic.
The team of presidential candidate Miloš Zeman has approached the Interior Ministry over possible irregularities in the second round of the direct presidential election, the news agency ČTK reported. A member of the team said they were concerned that some voters could be copying their absentee ballots to be able to vote in different districts. The Interior Ministry therefore informed all election committees to pay extra attention to verifying voters’ identity, and also informed the police of the issue, a spokesman for the ministry said. More than 700,000 people have asked for absentee ballots for the second round of the presidential election, Czech TV reported.
The other presidential candidate, Karel Schwarzenberg, said he would file a lawsuit over an anonymous advertisement which came out in the most widely-read Czech daily Blesk on Friday, calling on readers not to vote for Mr Schwarzenberg. The advertisement included false statements about Mr Schwarzenberg’s views. Legislation on direct presidential elections prohibits anonymous advertising. Mr Zeman’s campaign has denied being behind the anonymous advertisement; however, some lawyers believe this could lead to the cancellation of the result of the vote.
Karel Schwarzenberg cast an invalid ballot in the election’s second round. Mr Schwarzenberg, who voted near his Central Bohemian home shortly after the polls opened at 2 PM, failed to insert his ballot in the official envelope before putting it into the ballot box, a moment captured by dozens of photo journalists. His vote will therefore be counted as invalid. Mr Schwarzenberg later said he had been disturbed by the presence of the media at the polling station.
The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection will fine the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs over the controversial new electronic system of welfare benefits payments, known as S-Cards, a spokeswoman for the authority said on Friday. The announcement comes following a control of the system by the personal data watchdog at the ministry; the spokeswoman said the amount of the fine would be determined after the authority deals with objections by the ministry, adding that further details should be released next week.
Czech recipients of EU funds received nearly 403 billion crowns, or 52 percent of subsidies earmarked for Czech Republic for the period of 2007 – 2013, according to a report by the Ministry of Regional Development released on Friday. The total amount of EU funds allocated for the Czech Republic for the seven year period reached nearly 785 billion; however, the Czech authorities have registered over 92,000 individual applications for EU subsidies totalling over 1.34 trillion crowns.
Former Social Democrat MP Petr Wolf was declared wanted by the police on Friday after he failed to turn up to begin serving his prison term. Mr Wolf, who served as a Member of Parliament between 2006 and 2010, was sentenced to six years in jail last year for having embezzled 11 million crowns from a government grant. The former politician has denied any wrongdoing and is reportedly planning to appeal the verdict at the Supreme Court.
Smog alert has been declared in seven out of the country’s 14 regions. The areas worst affected by air pollution include the north-eastern Moravian-Silesian region, as well as Central Bohemia and the northern Ústí region. However, levels of dust in the air have meanwhile decreased in most parts of the country. Meteorologists believe pollution levels should further decrease early next week with the expected arrival of stronger winds and higher precipitation.
Two elderly women have died of complications caused by the A/H1N1 flu strain in the north-eastern Czech Republic, the regional hygiene officer said on Friday. A flu epidemic has broken out in several other Czech regions including Central and Southern Bohemia, Southern Moravia, and the Hradec Králové and Zlín regions, the authorities said. Around 40 people have died of flu-related causes since the Czech Republic was first hit by the epidemic last month.
A man armed with a gun attempted to rob a gas station near Šumperk, in the north of the country, on Thursday night, the police said. The picked a pack of chewing gum and came to the counter. He then pulled a gun from his backpack and told the assistant he would shoot her if she did not hand him all the money. But when the assistant declined, he paid for the chewing gum and left the station without hurting anyone of stealing anything. The police have asked potential witnesses for information; the man faces up to ten years in prison.