The police have arrested five men and charged them with blackmail, robbery and other crimes, a spokesman for the organized crime unit of Czech police said on Friday. The men allegedly targeted wealthy people in the Pardubice region in eastern Bohemia and blackmailed them for money, using threats of violence against them and their families. They also allegedly set at least eight cars on fire, two of which belonged to police officers investigating the case, the police said.
In related news, doubts have appeared about the Interior Ministry’s method of calculating the number of invalid signatures supporting the presidential candidates’ bids. The ministry took two samples of the total amount of signatures in support of each candidate, and verified whether they were valid. It then added the two error rates and deducted it from the total number of signatures. However, the news website ihned.cz reported that according to the act on the presidential election, ministry officials should only deduce an average rate error from the total number of signatures. In that case, one of the disqualified candidates, Jana Bobošíková, would have remained in the race. Interior Ministry officials said the issue would have to be resolved in court.
Social Democrat Michal Hašek was re-elected the governor of the South Moravian region on Friday, following his party’s victory in October’s elections. The region will be ruled by a coalition of Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. In the western Karlovy Vary region where the Communists won the ballot, Social Democrat Josef Novontý was re-elected governor. This was part of a deal between the Communists and the Social Democrats who formed a coalition there.
Speaking in Brussels, the Czech prime minister, Petr Nečas, has said he will reject the latest draft European Union budget for the 2014 to 2020 period. He says he cannot accept a reduction in the bloc’s cohesion fund that would see the amount available to the Czech Republic fall from EUR 26.7 billion in the current seven-year budget period to EUR 19.5 billion in the next one. The funds are available to all regions except Prague. Mr. Nečas has said that the Czech Republic, unlike a number of states, is not threatening a veto, but, he added, neither would it approve any plan whatsoever. EU leaders are set to return to the negotiating table at noon on Friday, though there are fears that no agreement will be reached.
The Ústí region, in the north of the country, will push for the lifting of government-imposed limits on coal mining, the region’s governor Oldřich Bubeníček, of the Communist Party, said on Friday. Mr Bubeníček said this could save hundreds of jobs in the region, but added that an agreement between mining firms and the affected municipalities was needed before any decision on the issue is taken. Limits on coal mining were imposed in 1991 to protect the environment in northern Bohemia and other areas devastated mainly by surface mining of lignite.
Three candidates for the presidential race – Jana Bobošíková, Vladimír Dlouhý and Tomio Okamura – have been disqualified by the Interior Ministry for having failed to meet the requirements. The ministry said on Friday that the three candidates failed to submit the required 50,000 signatures in support of their candidacy. The disqualified candidates may contest the ministry’s decision in court. Eight candidates are now left in the race including three – senators Jiří Dienstbier and Přemysl Sobotka and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg – who were nominated by MPs or senators and did not therefore need to present any signatures to run for the post. Former prime minister Jan Fischer has topped the polls so far, followed by another ex-prime minister Miloš Zeman.
Three different rates of the value added tax could be in place in January 2013 due to a possible delay in approving the government’s tax legislation, the Czech branch of the advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said on Friday. If the process of approving the tax package is delayed, a single VAT rate of 17.5 would come into force on January 1. This will be replaced by two rates of 15 and 21 percent, respectively when the government legislation comes into effect later in the month. This would be an unprecedented situation for the country’s businesses and firms, PwC said.
Arsenal FC and Czech international midfielder Tomáš Rosický could appear in a league game next week, after a five month absence caused by injury. Arsenal manager Arséne Wenger said the 32-year-old Czech footballer should be back with the team on Monday, a week after he resumed training with the team. Tomáš Rosický injured his Achilles tendon during the European championships in June. Next week, Arsenal plays Everton and Swansea in the Premier League.
Two of the three presidential candidates whom the Interior Ministry disqualified from running in January’s presidential election said they would contest the ministry’s decision in court. Jana Bobošíková announced she would continue her campaign until a court verdict confirms her disqualification. Meanwhile, Vladimír Dlouhý said she would appeal to the country’ Supreme Administrative Court to make sure the number of invalid signatures in his support was calculated correctly. The third candidate barred from running, Tomio Okamura, said he would consult his lawyers and announce his decision next week.
Dozens of international trains face delays following an accident on the Czech Republic’s major railway route. The accident occurred shortly before 5 PM on Friday when a train hit man on the railway line near Pardubice. Czech Railways said the line should be reopened at 7:30 PM; in the meantime, dozens of express trains connecting Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia via Prague will be detoured and delayed. Several local trains have been cancelled.