The Czech Foreign Ministry on Monday expressed “surprise” at the Russian authorities’ reaction to an event in Moscow commemorating the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. On Sunday, the Russian police detained eight people in Moscow’s Red Square who commemorated the invasion and honoured eight dissidents who protested against it on August 25, 1968, spending years in jail as a result. In a statement, the Czech Foreign Ministry said it was surprised the peaceful gathering was suppressed, and expressed hope the Russian authorities are aware of the event’s symbolism. However, the Russian authorities do not allow any rallies and gatherings to take place in the city’s Red Square.
The Social Democrat party faced an attempted takeover by the supporters of President Miloš Zeman over the weekend, the daily Právo reported. On Saturday, the Social Democrat leadership held a secret vote to confirm party chair Bohuslav Sobotka as their nominee for prime minister, a move pushed through by the president’s sympathizers. Mr. Sobotka received 86 out of 151 votes and reportedly considered stepping down due to insufficient support. Several members of the party’s executive committee who backed Mr Sobotka, including Senator Jiří Dienstbier, later said the party had survived an attempted takeover. Observers say the Social Democrats are divided among those supporting Bohuslav Sobotka and those who would prefer closer cooperation with President Zeman and his party, SPOZ.
The Czech caretaker government plans no further cuts to the country’s defence budget, Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok told a conference of Czech ambassadors on Monday. The prime minister said the Czech Republic’s image abroad might have been negatively affected by the complex political situation at home; however, the country would meet its obligations in the EU and NATO. If the Czech economy recovers, the cabinet is ready to increase its defence spending, Mr Rusnok added. This year, the Czech government plans to spend 1.08 percent of the country’s GDP on defence, as opposed to 2 percent required by NATO.
The Czech anti-monopoly agency on Monday approved the acquisition of the Mafra publishing house by Agrofert, a group owned by multi-billionaire and aspiring politician Andrej Babiše. Mafra prints two of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, Mladá fronta Dnes and Lidové noviny, and runs several popular news websites including idnes.cz. Agrofert purchased the publishing firm from the German company Rheinisch-Bergische Verlagsgesellschaft in June; the financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Mr Babiš’s political party, ANO, will run in October’s early election; however, an Agrofert spokesman had earlier said Mr Babiš would not interfere with the newspapers’ editorial policies.
Overall confidence in the economy among Czechs is reported to have gone up in August. According to figures released by the Czech Statistical Office on Monday, the overall economic sentiment indicator went up by 1.4 points month-on-month. Sectors where confidence increased most include services, business and consumer confidence which went up by more than three percentage points month-on-month and almost ten percentage points year-on-year. The monthly business indicator went up by 0.8 percentage points although its still lags behind levels registered in August 2012. The confidence indices in the construction and trade sectors have both decreased as compared to last year.
The number of court foreclosures registered in the Czech Republic dropped by over 30 percent in the first six months of this year to 320,000, the Czech Bailiffs’ Association said. The head of the association said the drop was caused by better public awareness and changes to the legislation. In 2012, the number of foreclosures dropped by 13 percent compared to the previous year despite a sudden rise in foreclosure filings in early 2012 over new legislation that came into force in March, the association said.
The leader of the Social Democratic party, Bohuslav Sobotka, has said that if his party were to form a government after the next elections, it would strive to introduce a higher income tax for high earners. In an interview with the iDnes news website, Mr. Sobotka said that an income tax between 27 and 29 percent for people earning more than 100 thousand crowns a month would help decrease government debt. The leading left-wing party also came out with a 21-point campaign platform on Saturday afternoon, which promises the creation of new jobs, an increase of the minimum monthly wage from 8.5 to 12 thousand crowns and a lower VAT for medicine.
The police on Monday charged three men aged 20, 22 and 52 of disorderly conduct and other offences they allegedly committed during Saturday’s anti-Romany rally in Ostrava, a spokeswoman for the Ostrava police said. Two men were charged for having assaulted police officers; the 52-year-old has been accused of verbally abusing officers, and faces charges of inciting racial hatred. The police arrested 62 people at six anti-Romany protests on Saturday; some 1,500 people are believed to have participated in the rallies.
Transportation Minister Zdeněk Žák plans to establish a new working group to oversee the reconstruction of the major D1 motorway between Prague and Brno. The decision comes after a massive, 26-km long traffic jam formed on the road on Sunday due to a closed lane; however, no reconstruction work was going on at the site at that time. Minister Žák said the commission should monitor all progress on the motorway to avoid similar situations in the future. Major renovation of the D1 route, which began earlier this year, is expected to finish in four years’ time.
The heavy metal band Lamb of God’s singer Randy Blythe has released a video he made during his trial in Prague. Entitled The Devil is in the Details, the 5-minute long black and white film reflects the singer’s difficult period in the Czech capital. In March, Randy Blythe was acquitted of manslaughter charges raised against him after the death of a fan who suffered injuries at the band’s 2010 Prague concert. Randy Blythe spent five weeks in police detention in Prague.