The foreign minister of Ukraine’s newly-formed government, Andriy Deshchytsya, has said his country wants and association agreement with the EU and stabile relations with Russia. Following a meeting with the Visegrad goup foreign ministers in Kiev on Friday, Mr. Deshchytsya said the new Ukrainian government was prepared to open talks with Russia on stabilizing bilateral relations and in particular finding a peaceful solution to the unraveling crisis in Crimea. The representatives of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland assured Kiev they would provide whatever assistance was within their means. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said that in view of the situation in Crimea the most pressing issue now was to maintain the unity of the country. Meanwhile, the EU on Friday reiterated its offer of a free-trade pact with Ukraine, saying the country would see the economic benefits within weeks of signing the agreement.
The Czech government wants to join the criminal prosecution in the ongoing case involving the company Promopro which won a controversial public order for the supply of audio-visual equipment during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. The state is claiming 338 million crowns in damages, the amount by which the order was allegedly overpriced. The suspects have been charged with scheming in a public tender and auction, abuse of power and breach of trust. Alexander Vondra, who was responsible for the preparation of the Czech EU presidency and who was defence minister in 2010-2012, has not been charged.
Czech Post has announced it will stop selling cigarettes at its outlets around the country as of next week. The state-owned company launched the sale tobacco products late last year within a diversification strategy aimed at consolidating its finances. The sale of tobacco products has come under fire from both the public and members of Parliament.
An audit into the education system has revealed that 17,000 teachers at primary and secondary schools are underqualified. Education Minister Marcel Chládek said he was shocked by the statistics and was taking measures to correct the situation. Approximately 7,000 underqualified teachers will have to leave their posts, 6,000 are already working on upgrading their qualification and another 4,000 have promised to do so without delay. Exceptions have been made for teachers over 60 who have taught for at least 15 years.
A court in Brno has found 11 members of the notorious Tofl gang guilty of bribery, extortion and abuse of office. They received sentences of 3 to 9 years and hefty fines. The gang is named after a former head of the regional economic crime squad who together with several former colleagues threatened entrepreneurs. They elicited large sums of money for withdrawing trumped up charges against them and in some cases even threatened to murder or abduct family members if the money was not delivered. The court heard over 100 witnesses in the case which attracted intense media attention.
Police President Petr Lessy is vacating his post as of March 1. He tendered his resignation in February in order to help restore stability in the force following a period when, due to a legal hurdle, it had two police chiefs. Petr Lessy, who was dismissed after being accused of abuse of office and defamation, cleared his name in court and was reinstated last December, but his successor Martin Červíček challenged the move in court. Neither will compete for the post again and a tender will be launched to select a new police chief.
Former prime minister Jiří Rusnok on Friday joined the seven-member board of the Czech National Bank. The 53-year old economist and former finance minister was hand-picked for the post by President Miloš Zeman. He replaces Eva Zamrazilová whose six-year mandate on the board ended in February. Mr. Rusnok’s appointment, the first of five that the president is due to make during his term in office, is expected to soften the board's currently Eurosceptic outlook. The central bank determines the monetary policy of the country and decides on fundamental monetary policy measures. It is also responsible for supervision over the entire financial market, including banks, insurance companies and the capital market.
Continuing discrimination and violence against Roma, domestic violence, failure to deal with cases of human trafficking and corruption are highlighted as black marks against the Czech Republic in the US state department’s annual survey of human rights in the world. Societal discrimination and violence against Roma was a problem last year with human rights organisations attacking the government’s failure to deal with it, the report said. Exploitation of illegal and migrant workers and discrimination against labour unions were also highlighted in the report. Attempts to stamp out abuses in the police and other forces were taken but areas of immunity persisted, it added.
In football, Viktoria Plzeň has made it to the last 16 of the Europa League after beating Shakhtar Donetsk 2:1 away from home on Thursday night. That brought the aggregate score over the two legs to 3:2 in the Czech team’s favour. Slovan Liberec drew 1:1 away at Dutch team Alkmaar and exit the competition due to the late goal conceded in their home game last week.