The construction firm Metrostav on Friday began conserving the unfinished Blanka tunnel complex in Prague, in preparation for a halt of construction work. The company announced earlier it would stop working on the complex on Saturday over disputes with Prague City Hall which owes the firm more than 2.1 billion crowns. City officials, meanwhile, say the contract between Prague and the construction firm was invalid as it had not been approved by the municipal assembly. The situation will most likely have to be resolved by the courts. The Blanka complex, whose costs are estimated at around 36 billion crowns, was to open next spring.
Gale-force winds of up to 140 km/h damaged power lines around the country leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity supplies. The worst damage is reported in the north of the country where strong winds were accompanied by heavy snow in the higher altitudes. Many roads were closed to traffic on Friday morning due to fallen trees and Czech Railways reported delays in several train connections. Drivers have been warned to exercise extreme caution.
A Christmas tree erected on Thursday in Vatican Square in Rome as a gift from Bavaria was felled in the Czech Republic, the mayor of a Bavarian community told Radio Vaticana. The tree was a gift from the Bavarian town of Waldmünchen, located close to the German-Czech border; when searching for a suitable tree, the Czech town of Domažlice offered a giant spruce growing on the Czech side of the border. The Bavarian mayor said the tree came from the hearth of Europe; the Czech town’s mayor suggested it was a symbol of Czech-German friendship.
A total of 529 people died in traffic accidents between January and November this year which was 107 less than in the same period last year, the head of the Czech traffic police told reporters on Friday. The number of road deaths has dropped below 600 for the first time since 1970. The police registered fewer injuries but a slight increase in the actual number of accidents and the damages caused by them. Around 2,600 drivers were found to be driving under the influence of drugs which represents a 30-percent increase compared to last year.
President Milos Zeman will not be delivering a New Year’s address to the nation, his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said on Thursday. He will instead address the nation on December 26th with a Christmas message. The tradition of New Years’ addresses started with the country’s first communist president Klement Gottwald in 1948. Presidents Tomas G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes delivered Christmas greetings.
Addressing a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Kiev, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout urged Ukraine to observe the OSCE’s human rights norms, including the right to demonstrate peacefully. In a speech devoted largely to human rights, Mr. Kohout said the present developments in the country were a crucial test for its leadership and expressed the hope that the country would stand by its international commitments. The meeting is taking place in a turbulent atmosphere of continued street protests against President Yanukovich and his decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Ukraine, presently holds the OSCE chairmanship.
The government has agreed to return a number of precious art pieces that are currently in the possession of the National Gallery to the different Catholic orders as part of the church property restitution settlement. Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok said on Czech Television on Wednesday evening that the Cistercian Order will receive nine wooden panels by the anonymous Master of Vyšší Brod from the mid 14th century, while two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens will newly belong to the Augustinians. All of the artworks will remain on display at the various National Gallery locations, but will officially be considered as free loans from the respective church orders.
Police have concluded an investigation into alleged abuse of the country’s Military Intelligence Service. Several people have been charged in connection with the case, including the former chief-of-staff to then-prime minister Petr Nečas and the former and current heads of the Military Intelligence Service. The scandal which brought down the centre-right government centred around the prime minister’s chief of staff Jana Nagyová who is believed to have commissioned the military intelligence service to shadow his wife. The former prime minister and his one-time chief of staff are now married and have refused to testify against each other in the case.
President Zeman and the Social Democrat leader met at Prague Castle on Thursday afternoon to discuss matters relating to the emerging coalition government. Mr. Sobotka said after the talks that there had been no areas of friction between them and that he saw no indication the president might try to artificially prolong the process of appointing a new government to office. The Social Democrat leader said talks on policy matters were advancing well and he hoped to have a coalition agreement by mid-December.
Lawyer Vladimír Zavadil has been fined 850,000 crowns for taking out a smear ad against presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg on the day of the presidential run-off vote. The ad, which appeared in the tabloid Blesk warned people not to vote for Karel Schwarzenberg since he had made controversial statements regarding the Benes decrees and could present a threat to the country’s national interests. Mr. Schwarzenberg was defeated in the presidential race by his rival Miloš Zeman. Police shelved a complaint by Schwarzenberg, but the lawyer was fined in a disciplinary hearing by the Czech Bar Association which said he had violated professional ethics.
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