At least two people were killed and a dozen injured in a gas explosion that demolished a block of flats in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm in the early hours of Sunday. The blast completely wrecked the inside of the building and firemen had to tear down two walls before they could start sifting through the debris for survivors. Several people are still unaccounted for, including two children. Police are trying to ascertain who was in the building at the time of the blast and the local authorities have established a crisis help line for relatives. It is not yet clear what caused the explosion.
Massive street protests continued for a second weekend in Bulgaria where people are demonstrating against what they call excessive electricity prices set by the Czech power distributor ČEZ and the Austrian energy company EVN. Over 3,000 demonstrators stopped traffic in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Sunday chanting “out with the mafia” and demanding that the country’s distribution network be nationalized. ČEZ claims that the higher electricity bills in January reflect higher consumption over the Christmas holidays and a colder-than-usual winter. ČEZ recently had its license revoked to operate Albania’s national grid after drawn-out disputes over tariffs and unpaid bills.
A runaway 60-metre-long steamboat crashed into one of the pillars of Palacký bridge on Sunday morning. No one was reported hurt in the accident and the bridge is reported to be undamaged. It appears that the boat was poorly moored and came loose several hundred meters upstream. The accident is being investigated.
Regulatory measures are in place in many parts of Moravia and Silesia after air-pollution levels exceeded permitted levels more than three-fold at all monitoring stations in the region for three consecutive days. The situation is reported to be worst in Ostrava and Zlín where the concentration of dust particles in the air was four times higher than normal. The region’s biggest industrial polluters have been ordered to scale-down production and car transport has been restricted in most city centers. Children, chronically ill people and seniors have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
The head of the Energy Regulatory Office, Alena Vitásková, who last week accused her predecessors of having illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants, said the audit on which she based her claim would be made public by the end of February. The ERO claims to have found serious irregularities in the purchase prices for solar power in the 2005–2011 period, which incurred damages to the tune of tens of billions of crowns. Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association says that the audit on which Ms Vitáskova based her accusations was doctored and was intended to cover up the organization’s present failings.
Several busloads of Danish students who spent their spring school-break in Prague this week left the capital under heightened police scrutiny over the weekend. The Danish visitors made headlines with several incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence in hotel rooms and the streets of Prague. One student was stabbed in his hotel room and two others were detained after assaulting officers in a brawl started by a group of 15 Danish students on Wenceslas Square. The Danish Embassy has apologized for the incidents. Two busses which were to have taken the students back failed to arrive for fear of problems and replacement busses had to be found. Another 6,000 Danish students are due to arrive in the Czech capital next week.
Many small-town cinema houses in the Czech Republic may have to close down this year because they lack the finances to go digital. Only 36 percent of Czech cinemas have met this requirement so far, with 155 cinema houses of an overall 426 having started digital projection. The country’s 27 multiplexes all meet the required standard. The Czech Republic currently has the densest network of cinema houses in Europe.
The Public Affairs Party has overwhelmingly elected Vit Barta its new leader. Mr. Barta, a former businessman who set up the party in 2001 and who was long considered its de-facto leader, was elected on the strength of 80 out of 98 votes. He said he was ready to take up the party banner with dedication and humility and to fulfill those goals which Public Affairs had failed to meet during its time in government. The party walked out of the ruling coalition last spring following a corruption scandal involving Mr. Barta and ideological differences with its coalition partners. Its intention was to bring down the centre-right government but a small faction around Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake rebelled and stayed on under a different name.
Public Affairs outgoing leader Radek John, who did not run for re-election or aspire for a deputy post, was elected honorary chairman, getting a standing ovation from the assembly. Mr. John, a former investigative journalist whose popularity helped the party win seats in Parliament in the 2010 general elections, is returning to his former profession. In a closing address, Mr. John said the battle against corruption in the top echelons of power had proven harder than expected and advocated a radical change of the political system under which MPs, governors and mayors would be elected directly and would be re-callable.
The national vehicle registration system which was put into operation last summer and has repeatedly been criticized for malfunction, is facing another serious hurdle: the contract with its current operator is due to expire at the end of March and the Transport Ministry reportedly omitted to call a public tender for a new operator. According to the internet news site idnes.cz an operator will now have to be found within 30 days, moreover without a tender. Even after more than six months in operation the new vehicle registration system is said to be slower and less reliable than the one it replaced. The transport minister resigned in connection with the problems late last year.