The Czech ambassador to the US, Petr Gandalovič, is in West, Texas providing assistance to Czech-Americans in the wake of Wednesday’s devastating fertilizer plant explosion. According to local police sources 15 people were killed in the blast, over a hundred were injured and many people have been left homeless. West has some 2,700 residents and is home to large community of Czech immigrants. A number of Czech-Americans are reported to have been among the firefighters who fought the blaze.
Health Minister Leoš Heger on Thursday announced several hospital mergers in connection with the government’s austerity measures. The health minister said the planned mergers would save the health sector approximately 60 million crowns annually. Among others the Prague Rheumatology Institute is to merge with Prague’s General Teaching Hospital and in Brno two teaching hospitals are to merge with the Brno Centre for Cardiology and Transplant Medicine. The move has come under fire from the opposition which says it will lower the quality of health care, extend the waiting period for operations and reduce the number of hospital beds for patients.
The Energy Regulatory Office has launched an inspection into dozens of solar plants which received a license to operate in late 2010 just ahead of a significant drop in state subsidies. According to ERU reports some solar plant owners filed an application on December 30th and received positive confirmation of their request within 24 hours on the last day of the year. The police are also on the case. An internal audit at the Energy Regulatory Office earlier this year indicated that former employees may have illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants. The suspected scams involving solar energy are said to have incurred damages worth tens of billions of crowns.
The newly-installed head of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes Pavla Foglová has confirmed her intention to dismiss office head Pavel Žáček, head of the security services archive Zlatuše Kukanová and the institute’s deputy for economic affairs Rene Schreier. The institute’s former head Daniel Herman was dismissed last week for allegedly failing to restore order to the troubled institution and make a headway with digitalization. The institute’s 15-member academic council promptly resigned in protest of the move saying it was politically motivated.
Town mayors are planning to demonstrate against the government’s proposed plan for the distribution of EU subsidies in the years between 2014 and 2020. They say the proposal involves excessive bureaucracy, leaves room for corruption and may leave potential funds untapped. Mayors say EU funds should primarily be used to improve the standard of living in rural areas and so to close the gap between the big cities and the rest of the country. In the 2014-2020 timeframe the Czech Republic could potentially draw over 20 billion euros from EU funds. Smaller towns and villages want more direct access to the money.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has refused MPs money to set up a Parliamentary football team which would represent the Czech Republic at the next parliamentary football tournament in Soci, Russia. Deputies from different political parties had asked for 650 thousand crowns from public funds to pay for travel and hotel expenses. The idea came under fire from some of their colleagues in view of the country’s economic problems. Minister Kalousek said on Thursday he had nothing against the idea but that MPS should pay their own way.
The Constitutional Court has ruled in favour of a man who has been fined hundreds of thousands of crowns for being four days late in paying alimony. The man’s ex-wife filed a complaint the day after the payment was due and his case was handed to a bailiff even though the payment was by then settled. The man has now been asked to pay the costs relating to bailiff services. The Constitutional Court ruled that the bailiff had no right to demand money for any services other than certifiable expenditures and sent the case back to the regional court.
A sixty-four-year-old man who murdered his twelve-year-old daughter in a fit of jealousy has gone on trial. The highly publicized court case opened in Liberec on Thursday with the state attorney demanding exceptional punishment. The man himself has refused to testify in court. Psychological tests indicate he is not deranged and was fully aware of the crime he committed. The man murdered his own child in a fit of rage against her mother who was working abroad at the time and saw the incident on Skype. The girl was repeatedly stabbed with a kitchen knife and was heard pleading with her father to spare her life. The man could get 20 years to a life sentence.
Plzeň are one win away from the league title after they beat Zlín 2:1 in game five of the playoffs’ finals in Zlín on Wednesday, taking a 3:2 lead in the best-of seven series. Zlín had a good start and scored in the 7th minute but Plzeň equalized just 13 second before the second intermission, and added another six minutes into the third period. Plzeň’s line-up included former Olympic winner and NHL veteran Jaroslav Špaček who came back for the game four months after he announced retirement; he took four shots at the goal. The next game is scheduled for Friday in Plzeň.