The Czech president-elect, Miloš Zelman, has held talks with the foreign minister and TOP 09 chairman, Karel Schwarzenberg, who he defeated in an election two weeks ago to succeed Václav Klaus as head of state. Mr. Schwarzenberg said after Friday’s meeting that the two had discussed issues surrounding Czech foreign policy, including the question of who will become the country’s ambassador to Moscow; there has been speculation that the post will be filled by Vladimír Remek, the only ever Czechoslovak cosmonaut and a Communist Party MEP. Minister Schwarzenberg said he and the new president were likely to disagree over Kosovo. Mr. Zeman, a former Social Democrat prime minister, will be inaugurated in a ceremony at Prague Castle on March 8. He has been holding talks with party leaders in the last week.
The Czech prime minister, Petr Nečas, says the Czech Republic’s threat to veto a proposed European Union budget helped secure more funding for the country. Mr. Nečas made the comment in Brussels on Friday shortly after a summit of EU leaders hammered out an agreement on a budget for the 2014–2020 period. Under the deal, the Czech Republic will be able to draw up to EUR 20.5 billion as part of the bloc’s cohesion policy. That figure is down from the EUR 26.7 billion available to the country under the current long-term budget, with the fall reflecting both austerity efforts and the Czech Republic’s relative growth in wealth. Mr. Nečas said the figure proposed prior to the summit was unacceptably low and that the country’s veto threat had been “significant” in winning increased funding, adding that the sum for the Czech Republic per capita would still be fourth highest in the EU.
A documentary drama on a notorious Communist-era state prosecutor and judge is set for general release in the Czech Republic next week. Murderer by Profession: The Suffering of Karel Vaš features a rare interview with Vaš, who was a key player in some of Czechoslovakia’s notorious show trials of the early Communist period and died last year at the age of 96. Among his best-known victims was war hero General Helidor Píka, whose intercession with the Soviet authorities to have Czechoslovak soldiers freed during WWII may well have saved the life of Vaš, who was being held in a Gulag camp. The film is largely the work of historian Pavel Paleček, who wrote, co-directed and produced it. Its makers say they plan to screen the film at schools and to have it shown at festivals.
Pressure on Prime Minister Nečas is growing within his party, the Civic Democrats, Novinky.cz reported on Saturday. The news website said some members were giving their chairman until a party congress in the autumn to turn around its fortunes or face possible replacement ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. The dominant right-wing force in Czech politics in the last two decades, the Civic Democrats currently lead an unpopular coalition government after garnering 20 percent in the last general elections. A poll this week suggested they would receive 15.6 percent in a vote held now, just ahead of their rivals on the right (and coalition partners) TOP 09 on 14.5 percent. Some mayoral candidates have recently said that they will not run for election under the Civic Democrats’ banner as it would harm their chances.
The Culture Ministry has confirmed it will provide additional funds for grant programmes. Its representatives met first with officials from the Finance Ministry to agree on details. The news was revealed by the Culture Ministry’s Jan Vondryska. The ministry took the step to try and increase grants after a scaling down was originally announced but came under fire from cultural organisations and publications.
According to older methodology, unemployment figures reached their highest in January in the history of the independent Czech Republic. Older tabulation methods reveal more than 10 percent of people remained out of work in the first month of 2013. That translates as more than 580,000 people without jobs. Historically, former Czechoslovakia had a higher jobless rate during the 1930s, when some 740,000 people were out of work. Under the new methodology, the rate of unemployment in the Czech Republic rose to eight percent, up by 0.6 percentage points from the previous month. According to analysts, the worsening situation on the job market was expected due to the economic recession and decrease in hiring. At the end of last month there were approximately 33,800 open positions around the country.
On the first day of the Biathlon World Championship the hosting Czechs took the bronze in the mixed relay competition. Veronika Vítková, Gabriela Soukalová, Jaroslav Soukup and Ondřej Moravec made it into the top three on Thursday evening, behind Norway and France. Soukup had to replace Michal Šlesingr in the line-up at the last minute, since Šlesingr is down with the flu. It is still uncertain if he will take part in the 10 km sprint on Saturday in the Moravian town of Nové Město.
President-elect Miloš Zeman is concluding a series of meetings he had this week with leaders of the parties in government and the opposition. On Friday evening he will meet with the chairman of the right-of-centre TOP 09, Karel Schwarzenberg, his rival in last month’s presidential election. Earlier Mr Zeman met with the outgoing president, Václav Klaus, the prime minister and chairman of the Civic Democrats, Petr Nečas, and the heads of the Communist Party, the Social Democrats and Public Affairs. The president-elect has so far refused to meet with members of LIDEM, a splinter group that broke away from Public Affairs, on the grounds it lacked legitimacy.
Stormy debate in the Chamber of Deputies on Friday preceded a vote in favour of naming January 16 a memorial day to Jan Palach, the student who immolated himself on the day in 1969 in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Palach died from his burns three days later, on January 19. On Friday, several members of the Communist Party voiced reservations about Mr Palach’s sacrifice as a symbolic act against totalitarian rule; members of the ruling coalition walked out in protest. Jana Černochová, a deputy for the Civic Democratic Party, called the commemorative day “a sign of respect for [Palach’s] heroic act against the totalitarian regime”. The vote passed with only one MP, Communist hardliner Marta Semelová, voting against, although 11 MPs, including five Communists, abstained. A total of 152 deputies were present. The legislation is now to be debated by the Chamber of Deputies cultural committee.
Police in Zlín have charged eight people suspected of tax evasion amounting to at least 186 million crowns. Six of the eight, who were involved in the sale of perfume and beet root oil, were remanded in custody. The investigation took several months; on Thursday, officers searched 20 homes. If found guilty, the suspects could face between to five to ten years in prison.
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