The Czech government on Wednesday approved a military training mission to Mali. The Czech contingent should be part of an EU mission to the African country destabilized by Islamist insurgency, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said. The mission, consisting of up to 50 instructors, is yet to be approved by the lower house; the opposition Social Democrat leader, Bohuslav Sobotka said however his party would agree provided Czech soldiers would not take part in the fighting. Czech instructors should assist in training Malian mechanized infantry troops at various army bases. The mission’s budget of around 220 million crowns should be paid for by the Czech Defence Ministry.
The Czech National Bank on Wednesday cut its forecast for the country’s economy to 0.3 percent contraction, down from a previous estimate of 0.2 percent growth. The central bank also decided to keep the interest rate at a record low of 0.05 percent, a spokesman for the bank said. Economists expect the interest rate to remain at the current level until the end of 2014.
In related news, Czech exports in 2012 for the first time exceeded 3 trillion crowns, or nearly 158 billion US dollars, according to government figures released on Wednesday. The exports consisted mainly of machinery, vehicles and other final products. Some analysts believe the results point to a beginning of economic recovery in the Czech Republic which has been in recession for over a year. The country also registered a record foreign trade surplus last year which amounted to 310 billion crowns, more than 30 percent more than in the previous year.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday voted to accept the government’s proposed fiscal legislation for further debate. The so-called “fiscal constitution” introduces a limit for the country’s public debt; it also requires the government to come up with ways of curbing spending if the debt exceeds 40 percent of GDP. In case the public debt reaches 48 percent of GDP, the government would be legally bound to cut at least 3 percent of its spending. The opposition has called for changes to the draft legislation which they say would narrow the manoeuvring space for any future government regardless of the economic cycle.
The Czech operational programme Northwest will have to return 2.5 billion crowns of EU funds over problems with project management, the head of the programme said on Wednesday, quoting a letter from the European Commission. The commission, which is expected to officially inform the regional administrations of the request in the coming days, said the funds had to be returned over problems with the programme’s ineffective evaluation system and errors in the individual projects. The Northwest operational programme was halted last year and several of its managers are prosecuted on corruption charges.
A court in Prague on Wednesday sentenced high-profile physician Jaroslav Barták to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing his assistants. Mr Barták was convicted of assaulting 10 women between 2006 and 2010 who worked as his assistants; the court found the 54-year-old man guilty on six charges of rape, three charges of sexual assault, as well as on charges of blackmail and restricting personal liberty. Mr Barták, who co-owns a well-known Prague clinic and served as the head of a local branch of Lions Club International, has consistently denied all charges and said he was victim of a conspiracy, a claim rejected by the court.
A court in Prague on Wednesday acquitted a 38-year-old woman charged with child abuse for having beaten her son with a wooden spoon. The woman had received a conditional sentence but the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court which argued the woman, who had no previous criminal record, otherwise took good care of the child, and was in contact with the boy’s school. Experts also found that the boy did not suffer from abused child syndrome.
Czech doctors on Wednesday unveiled a new plan to combat alcoholism in the country. The National Action Plan, as proposed by the Association for Addictive Diseases, should increase public awareness of the issue, and make more people with drinking problems undergo treatment, the head of the association, Petr Popov, said. One of the new strategies should curb people’s consumption of alcohol rather than make them give it up for good. The Czech Republic ranks among the countries with the highest consumption of alcohol in the world, with each Czech over 15 years of age annually consuming nearly 17 litres of pure alcohol.
The police on Wednesday closed several streets in central Prague, including the busy Národní třída, after a WWII artillery grenade was found at a construction site. No buildings in the area had to be evacuated. The police’s explosives squad transported the grenade to a safe location where it could be detonated, a police spokesman said. The unexploded artillery grenade was unearthed at a construction site near the Národní metro station where a new shopping mall is being built; the operation of the metro was unaffected by the find.