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Finance minister says president’s comments on central bank are unacceptable

Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš has weighed into the controversy stirred up by President Miloš Zeman’s comments that he will not nominate members of the Czech National Bank (ČNB) board who are in favour of the current low crown exchange rate and will seek to appoint those who are in favour of the Czech Republic quickly joining the eurozone. Babiš reacted in comments to the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes that the central bank should be an independent institution and the president’s comments were unacceptable. Zeman is due to appoint a new governor of the national bank in 2016. He maintains that the low crown regime has delayed Czech membership of the Eurozone.

Czech ambassador Livia Klausová faces age problem over new law

The Czech ambassador to Slovakia and wife of former president, Livia Klausová, could have to step down for her post early according to the news server Echo 24. The site reports that the new civil service law will put a ceiling of 70 years for those working for the state. Klausová already celebrated her 71st birthday last year. The news server said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking ways to overcome the problem and prolong Klausová’s mandate. The new civil service law should take effect from July 1.

Judges’ association backs pay settlement with state

One of the biggest professional organisations representing judges has given broad backing to a proposed pay settlement with the government. The union of judges, which represents around half of Czech judges, said on Thursday that it would support a deal over back pay with the government. Under the deal the state will find around 1.2 billion crowns to partially compensate judges for insufficient pay over three years. But representatives of the organization stressed that it was really up to judges themselves whether to accept the offer or fight on. The settlement became necessary when a court rules in favour of protesting judges that the wrong calculations had been used to set their pay in the past.

Court demands retrial of former regional development minister over fraud

The Prague High Court on Thursday cancelled the acquittal of former deputy regional development minister Petr Forman and another two co-defendants over the suspected embezzlement of more than 200 million crowns from EU subsidies. The case will now go back to the Prague Municipal Court that acquitted Forman twice in the past. The appeals court meted out guilty verdicts for another six people. Three of them were sentenced to up to four years in prison and another three received suspended sentences for fraudulent use of regional funds. The fraud cases dating from 2004 and 2005 have been in the courts for the last nine years.

Row over regional support for Russian culture week

A political row has broken out over the South Moravia region’s proposed financial backing for a week of Russian culture timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Local leaders of the TOP 09 political party have called for the 200,000 crown support to be cancelled unless Russian intervention in Ukraine ceases. TOP 09’s Jan Vitula said support for a Russian cultural week now would be like holding a Richard Wagner week in 1938. Wagner was Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer and his descendants were enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi regime. The South Moravia region has reacted by saying that culture should be separated from politics.

Environmental group says roadside trees not being replaced

Environmental organization Arnika says 166,000 trees have been cut down along the sides of roads in the Czech Republic since 2003. Although the law states that sacrificed trees should be replaced, Arnika says that only 100,000 have been planted as replacements. In some regions the picture is even worse with only one replacement tree for every 10 cut down. Many regions have sought to remove trees from the sides of roads on safety grounds.

Czech driver caught carrying refugees in truck “with apples for Czech market”

Border guards in Bulgaria discovered around 40 refugees in a truck driven by a Czech driver and ostensibly carrying apples bound for the Czech market, according to Novinite-Sofia News Agency. The refugees, who came from Syria and Iraq, were evidently headed for Austria when they were found in the base of the lorry, which had Bulgarian number plates.

Zeman to discuss using restitution money to fund hospices with Pope

President Miloš Zeman says he will ask discuss the idea of the Czech Roman Catholic Church using some of the money it is receiving under restitution to fund hospices when he meets the Pope. Mr. Zeman, who is due to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican in April, made the comment on a visit to the Hradec Králové Region, describing an interest in hospices as his “hobby”. Under legislation approved in 2012 after a divisive debate, assets seized from churches by the Communists valued at CZK 75 billion are being handed back, while more than CZK 60 billion in financial compensation will go to the churches over a 30-year period in lieu of properties not being returned.

Karolína Plíšková reaches last four of Dubai Open

In tennis, Karolína Plíšková has triumphed yet again overfellow Czech Lucie Šafářová to reach the last four of the Dubai Open. Plíšková went 3:6 down in the first set but came back to take the second on a tie-break 7:6. She round off with a 6:1 win in the third. She will face Carla Suarez Navarro, who defeated Czech Petra Kvítová, in the semi-finals. Plíšková beat Šafářová at the same stage of the Antwerp Open last week.

Women’s basketball team qualifies for European quarterfinals

In basketball, women’s team USK Praha has qualified for the knockout stages of the European League. The Prague team held onto third place in their qualifying group with a 77:72 against Montpellier in France. USK will now go through to the quarterfinals and play Salamanca in March for a place in the final four competition. Brno team IMOS Brno failed to qualify from their group.