The Prague City Hall has approved a controversial amendment to the ordinance on the regulation of gambling. The new city ordinance has lowered the number of places where gambling is allowed from 650 to 317 and includes a ban on advertising of gambling facilities and neon-light signs outside of these locations. Gambling facilities are an important source of income for the city coffers. Due to the limit on the number of places where gambling machines can be located, the city will most likely lose up to 400 million crowns from its budget, which is approximately half of what it receives from gambling today. The Green Party has strongly criticized the amendment, saying that it will not influence the overall number of gamblers. Others criticized the change for not being strict enough and leaving room for possible corruption.
Prague councilors have tightened the regulation banning alcohol consumption in public places. The council on Thursday doubled the number of locations where drinking is prohibited, such as parks, playgrounds, squares and bus and tram stops. The regulation is due to go into effect on October 3rd and the fine for violating it is 1,000 crowns. Some 300 towns and cities around the country have similar restrictions.
The Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that the management of Šumava National Park made the right decision in felling trees in bark-beetle-infested areas in the protected nature reserve. The decision was contested by environmental activists who have long advocated less radical methods in fighting the spread of bark beetle. The head of Šumava Park Jiří Mánek has welcomed the decision, saying that after several years of problems the bark beetle infestation was once again under control.
Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok told reporters on Friday that if the owners of the Paskov mine in northern Moravia were to act as gentlemen in negotiations with the government, it would be possible to keep the mine open until 2016. The mine’s owner OKD announced earlier this week that it is planning to close the mine by the end of 2014, claiming that it has not been profitable for some time. The mine currently employs some 3,000 workers, in a region that already has high unemployment. OKD said that with financial help from the government, it would be willing to keep the Paskov mine open longer, but on Wednesday Prime Minister Rusnok refused to provide any subsidies to the firm. The government will open negotiations with OKD’s shareholders next week in an effort to keep it open for another three years.
TOP 09 party has started its election campaign on Friday with a tram ride through Prague. The party’s chairman Karel Schwarzenberg, first deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek and other candidates travelled through the capital on the special TOP 09 line, inviting passersby to join them on the tram to talk about their concerns and enjoy the refreshments and entertainment provided. Former Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that they picked a tram to kick off the campaign for symbolic reasons, to show that the party knows where it is going, and that like a tram it is not backing up on tis way to Western Europe.
Members of the activist organization Greenpeace held a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Prague on Friday morning demanding that the Russian government release their colleagues who were detained in the Barents Sea on Thursday. Russian law enforcement agents boarded a Greenpeace ship, which was floating near a Gazprom oil platform, arresting 30 crew members and detaining the vessel. The activists have been accused of aggressive and provocative behavior, after some of them attempted to board the oil rig from their ship.
The main lounge at the famous television tower on the Ještěd Mountain in northern Bohemia has been reopened after renovation works. The painstaking refurbishing returned the lounge to the way it looked when the tower opened in 1973, with the original interior design by Otakar Binar. The lounge will welcome the first members of the public on Saturday, as part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the construction of the tower. The 94-meter tall Ještěd Tower is considered to be one of the most original pieces of modern architecture in the Czech Republic. Its architect Karel Hubáček received the prestigious Auguste Perret Prize from the International Union of Architects in 1969.
The Prague 10 town hall is willing to pay 43 million crowns for the former residence of the famous writer Karel Čapek. Although a foreign bidder has offered a higher price, the villa’s owner, Karel Scheinpflug has indicated that he would be willing to sell it for the lower price to the local administration. The local town council will vote on the proposal to buy the villa on Monday. Cultural Minister Jiří Balvín has expressed interest in speaking at the council meeting in support of the decision. Karel Čapek and his painter brother Josef had the villa built for them in the early 1920’s. Only the half where Karel lived is currently for sale. The writer’s study has been preserved as it appeared during his lifetime. The Prague 10 council plans to open up a part of the residence to the public, if the sale goes through.
President Miloš Zeman, who on Thursday concludes a two-day working visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, says EC chief Jose Barroso has promised to exert greater effort on behalf of the EC in getting Canada to lift its visa requirement for Czech nationals. The Czech side has repeatedly tried to elicit greater involvement from the EU on the issue after its own appeals to Toronto went unheard. Canada reintroduced visa requirements for Czechs in 2009 following a wave of largely Romany asylum seekers to the country.
In related news President Miloš Zeman assured the EC chief that the Czech Republic fully realized the importance of adopting a public service act as soon as possible. Mr Barroso stressed that without the legislation, the country could have problems drawing EU funds during the next budgetary period. The Czech Parliament adopted a public service act ahead of the country’s accession to the EU in 2004, but it never entered into force and there has been drawn-out controversy over its proposed amendment.