The number of aviation accidents in the Czech Republic fell to its lowest in 10 years in 2012, according to information released by the country’s Air Accidents Investigation Institute. According to the organization, the country saw 50 aviation accidents last year; there was, however, no significant drop in the number of fatalities – 13, just one fewer than the previous year. Eight people died in plane crashes, two in a helicopter crash, and three in parachute jumps. The head of the Air Accidents Investigation Institute, Pavel Štrůbl, suggested that nevertheless the generally low number of fatalities could be considered a success. He explained at a seminar on Thursday that since the 1990s the number of small sports planes and ultra-light planes in the country, considered the highest-risk, had gone up ten times, while the number of fatalities had gone up four.
Two Czech citizens held in Greece since September on espionage charges returned to Prague on Thursday morning. The two were released from jail on Wednesday on a 5,000 euro bail. Their release came after the Greek authorities stated that they did not represent a security threat. The two video games developers were arrested and accused of espionage after they took photos of a military facility on the Greek island of Lemnos. The men said they took the pictures to use them in a new game. They may still have to return to Greece for trial. The two suspects on Thursday were awaited by members of their families at the airport in what was an emotional reunion that drew marked attention from the media. One of the two men said the release had gone unexpectedly smoothly; both expressed relief to be back on Czech soil.
The coalition government, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, survived a vote of no confidence on Thursday evening. The opposition initiated the vote in reaction to the recent presidential amnesty which had been counter-signed by the premier, which saw the release of more than 7,000 prisoners and halted, or threatens to halt, a number of major corruption and economic crime cases. The opposition was able to find support of 92 MPs - far short of the 101 needed to bring down the government. The attempt was the fifth by the opposition to topple the centre-right cabinet.
Fresh snowfall worsened conditions on Czech roads on Thursday especially in the regions of central and southern Bohemia and Plzeň. Areas in the region of Plzeň saw between 5 and 10 new centimeters of new snow. Although all major roads remained accessible, motorists were warned to exercise extra caution due to the risk of snow drifts and also icy patches. Worsening conditions were the main factor in a number of car crashes.
Dignitaries from Prague’s Charles University, headed by rector Václav Hampl, laid flowers at Jan Palach’s plaque at the Philosophy Faculty, 44 years after Palach set himself on fire in protest of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. He died on January 19 1969. Dozens in attendance on Wednesday lit candles in the student’s memory and held a minute of silence. Traffic at the square bearing Palach’s name was also temporarily halted. A new website dedicated to him has also been launched by the university, in cooperation with Czech TV, Czech Radio, the National Film Archives and other institutions.
Outgoing Czech President Václav Klaus, while skiing on Thursday, issued an apparent dig against one of the two candidates running to succeed him, Karel Schwarzenberg. Speaking to the Czech news agency and Czech Radio, Mr Klaus said he would prefer to see a candidate elected who "belonged to the country" and had spent his life here in “good times and bad”. The statement was a clear snub of Mr Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister, who grew up and spent much of his life in neighbouring Austria; his parents emigrated with him as a boy after the Communists seized power in 1948. Mr Schwarzenberg, a titled prince, said in an earlier debate he never gave up his Czechoslovak citizenship, even when abroad, and always kept strong ties to his homeland.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and his spouse Radka have revealed in a joint-statement that they are currently going through a difficult period in their marriage, confirming to the Czech news agency that they had been living separately for several months. The statement was issued following increased speculation by the media over several weeks; the prime minister turned down a traditional New Year’s lunch with the president earlier in January, where both wives would have been present. Mr and Mrs Nečas revealed they had no concrete plans on how to proceed but made clear their dedication to their four children, as well as continuing respect for each other, was of primary importance.
The Health Ministry has made available 9,000 packages of Tamiflu in response to the flu epidemic hitting the country. One-hundred-and-thirty five people have been hospitalized in serious condition and the ministry has revealed that the flu this season has claimed 23 lives. Last week, the ministry made available 1,440 packs of the antivirotic Relenza in the keeping of the General Teaching Hospital in the Czech capital. Three-thousand packs of Tamiflu will go to the General Teaching Hospital, while further packages of the medicine will be delivered to other facilities across the country. The flu epidemic in the Czech Republic is expected to peak in the coming days or weeks, the chief hygiene officer has said.
The cabinet on Wednesday also approved an updated anti-corruption strategy for the years 2013 and 2014. The document, which mainly focuses on prevention, says political parties and civil servants are at the core of corruption in the country as they influence public procurement projects. The strategy recommends the introduction of new legislation including bills on civil service and the financing of political parties to make public procurement more transparent. According to Transparency International, which collaborated on the strategy, the Czech Republic ranked 54th in the world in the group’s corruption perception index, up from 57th place the previous year.
With 9 days left before the second round of the Czech presidential elections, candidates Miloš Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg took part in a debate hosted by Czech Radio. The presidential hopefuls discussed their views on a range of issues from central bank and Constitutional Court appointments to foreign policy and the country’s relation to the EU. Miloš Zeman, who came first in the election’s first round, dismissed concerns about his links to the Russian oil firm Lukoil; Karel Schwarzenberg said, among other things, he would prefer a majority vote for the lower house. Both candidates also expressed the view that the Czech Republic should only join the EU’s planned banking union after it adopts the euro.
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