Criminal investigators have determined that the massive explosion in central Prague last Monday was caused by a gas leak from pipes under the pavement, located a few meters in front of the building that suffered most of the damages. More than forty people were injured by the blast, though all but two cases were relatively minor. Damages to the surrounding buildings have been estimated to be more than 50 thousand crowns. Two university faculties housed in the buildings surrounding the blast site renewed classes earlier this week. Some of the ceilings fell through and a wall had moved in the building that suffered most of the damages, which remains off limits to the public.
In a speech at the Russian embassy in Prague, the Czech President Miloš Zeman said that he would like to see the volume of Russian investments in the Czech Republic increase in the next few years. Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the end of the Second World War, Mr Zeman said that Russian investments currently make up 0.8 percent of all foreign investments in the country, and that he would like to see that amount rise to between two and four percent. The president and the Russian ambassador both spoke about the Czech-Russian consortium which is one of the two bidders for a multi-billion-crown tender for the expansion of the Temelín power plant. Some experts worry that giving the energy tender to the consortium, as opposed to the Japanese-American company Westinghouse, would not be in the best geopolitical interests of the Czech Republic.
An association of foreign and Czech solar energy investors, International PhotoVoltaic Investors Club, has filed an arbitration suit against the Czech Republic, asking for compensation for the financial losses resulting from the introduction of a 26-percent tax on solar power stations’ profits. The Czech government offered numerous incentives in the past to foreign investors in solar energy, promising extensive tax breaks. The retroactive profit tax was introduced in 2011 and applies to power plants that began operations in 2010 and 2009. This year, solar power stations received 44.4 billion crowns in government support, which is 66% of all the public finances for renewable energy.
An investigation has begun into a controversial state scheme to support solar power, the TV station Prima Family has reported. In a speech to the lower house on Tuesday, President Miloš Zeman said that “solar barons” had cheated the state out of around CZK 200 billion and called for the establishment of a commission to look into what he called the greatest robbery in the country’s history. Miloslav Kala, the head of the Supreme Audit Office, told Prima Family that such a team already existed; as well as Mr. Kala, it includes representatives of the judiciary, the secret services and other agencies.
Twenty-one people were injured in a collision between a bus and a lorry on route R7 on the outskirts of Prague, near the Václav Havel airport. Most injuries were relatively minor, though one woman was more seriously hurt and was airlifted to a Prague hospital. The accident happened on Thursday morning and emergency services closed down the freeway in both directions for a short while, in order to treat the injured. The bus, belonging to the transportation company Student Agency, was en route from Chomutov to Prague.
Major reconstruction work has begun on one of the most frequented freeways in the Czech Republic, the D1, which connects Prague and Brno. The 160-kilometer road, which has been in a dire state for a number of years, will be modernized in sections, with only partial closings at each stretch. Transportation Ministry officials said that no traffic problems were noted in the first day of the road work. In addition to modernizing the road and connected infrastructure, the roadway will be expanded from two to three lanes in some places. The reconstruction should last six years in total.
Organizers of the Prague Marathon, which is happening this weekend, said that stricter security measures will be in place this year, in light of the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon. There will be a higher number of police officers and security personnel at the event, but neither the organizers nor the Prague City Hall, which is in charge of police detail, were willing to give exact numbers. Some 450 people were looking after safety at last year’s marathon. This year, police and security personnel will regularly check the surrounding area of the marathon route, garbage cans and metro stations. Some nine and a half thousand runners are registered for the main marathon on Sunday.
Dozens of homes and an industrial complex were flooded in the town of Studénka in eastern Moravia, after heavy rainfall hit the area on Wednesday night. Fifteen fire brigades assisted businesses and residents to drain the water from their homes and gardens throughout the night and into Thursday morning. One man was trapped in his car in high water, but was eventually rescued by firefighters. No major injuries were reported.
A Czech businessman, Jiří Skalický, was detained this week by the police in Mexico on suspicion of blackmail. Mr Skalický’s business partner told police that he had demanded a substantial sum of money in exchange for the safety of the man’s family, which the 48-year old Czech has denied, saying that the two are in a financial dispute. The Mexican authorities will decide on Thursday if they will press charges against Mr Skalický.
Thursday marks 140 years since the birth of Antonín Čermák, once mayor of Chicago and a native of the town of Kladno near Prague. One of the most famous Czech-Americans, Tony Cermak was the mayor of Chicago from 1931 until 1933, when he was assassinated. A school in Prague 6 was renamed at a ceremony on Thursday in honor of his achievements.