Students in their last year at high school had their last chance on Monday to apply for high school-leaving exams next spring. The exams include a compulsory section in the Czech language and an option of choosing between either mathematics or a foreign language. After numerous mistakes in the last exams, changes in testing were introduced: namely all students will be tested at the same level (without, for example, an advanced option in maths).
The Supreme Audit Office has uncovered shortcomings in management at the Office of the President and Lány Forestry Administration, an allowance organisation. The bureau uncovered mistakes in accounting and inventory as well as a number of public tenders, a spokeswoman revealed; there was no misuse of state budget funds and some of the problems uncovered have already been rectified. The main task of Lesní správa Lány, the Lány Forestry Administration, is to meet the requirements of the president and guests at the presidential chateau and grounds.
In related news, the visiting U.S. secretary of state issued a warning in Prague to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the deployment of chemical weapons against inhabitants, although she would not say what steps the United States would take if the weapons were used. Mrs. Clinton said democratic governments throughout the world were closely watching developments in Syria. Her Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg warned about the situation in the country being increasingly chaotic and said it was not clear what would happen if a rebellious group got hold of chemical weapons. The U.S. secretary of state said the Czech Republic had ample knowledge of processing chemical, biological and other arsenals, stressing that cooperation with Prague would be very important in the event that Mr Assad´s regime fell and international forces were deployed in Syria.
According to Czech Radio’s Regina, Prague residents may have to pay more next year for garbage removal: City Hall has not yet addressed the issue publically, but several towns are planning hikes. Funds have not been enough in the long term – estimates suggest that roughly half billion crowns are needed.
Deputy Communist Party leader Jiří Dolejš has suggested that support from within his party is likely higher for Social Democratic presidential hopeful Jiří Dienstbier than for fellow fellow candidate and former Social Democrat leader Miloš Zeman. Mr Dolejš was reacting to an appeal by current Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka at the weekend for the Left to align behind a single candidate, to curb right-wing or conservative candidates' chances of being elected. Despite the appeal, Mr Dolejš made clear he did not know who his party leadership would recommend. The country faces its first direct presidential election in January; President Václav Klaus ends his final term in March.
The Czech minister of transport, Pavel Dobeš of the LIDEM party, officially stepped down on Monday. Mr Dobeš announced his resignation last month under pressure from his own party over problems with a new vehicle registry system; however, party infighting also played a role in the move, and the outgoing minister said he was considering quitting the LIDEM group. Coalition parties are yet to agree on who will succeed Pavel Dobeš at the Transport Ministry.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was in Prague for a short visit on Monday to support a bid by the American and Japanese company Westinghouse to complete the Temelín nuclear power station in South Bohemia. Mrs. Clinton met with the Czech prime minister, Petr Necaš, her Czech counterpart, Karel Schwarzenberg, and leaders of the opposition. At a press conference in the Czech capital after meeting with the Czech foreign minister, Mrs. Clinton expressed support for Westinghouse, saying the company was offering the "best technology and security guarantees". The firm is competing for the Temelín deal with Russia's Atomstroyexport (bidding as part of a Russian-Czech consortium). On Monday, Mrs. Clinton also praised Czech-U.S. relations, calling the Czech Republic one of the closest partners of the U.S. in Europe.
A patient in his early 60s was admitted to hospital in Benešov, Central Bohemia, in serious condition on Sunday evening for methyl alcohol poisoning. Police are investigating and the bottle of spirits that were consumed is being tested in a laboratory. A police spokesman revealed the bottle was from the patient’s long-term supplies. The Czech Republic was hit by an outbreak of methanol poisoning in mid-September that over the weeks and months since has claimed 37 lives. The laced alcohol was introduced onto the market illegally in September by bootleggers. Officials have repeatedly appealed to Czechs not to drink hard alcohol of unknown origin – a warning being repeated ahead of the holiday season.
Former prime minister Mirek Topolánek has suggested he will leave the party he once headed, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, telling the weekly Euro he would probably not renew membership in March of next year. He told the magazine that the chances of his paying the annual membership fee was “close to zero”; the party, which heads the current government coalition, has suffered a significant drop in voter preference recent opinion polls, coming third behind both opposition parties the Social Democrats and the Communists. Speaking at the party’s convention in November, Mr Topolánek pushed for changes in leadership which he says did not happen. Mr Topolánek first joined the Civic Democrats in 1994; he took over as leader in 2002 and led the party shortly up until the 2010 elections, when he was replaced by current leader Petr Nečas.
The Czech Republic’s security council is set to discuss on Monday a possible deal with Sweden to extend the lease of the JAS 39 Gripen fighters. The outgoing Czech Defence Minister, Alexandr Vondra, will inform the council of the negotiations; Mr Vondra said earlier this week the latest offer was much better than the one made previously. The ten-year-lease of the Swedish-made fighters will expire in 2014; the Czech government prefers an extension of the lease to a new tender. The news agency ČTK reported that three possible deals are being discussed: a three-year extension for over five billion, a five-year lease for nearly eight billion, or a ten-year extension for more than 14 billion crowns.
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