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Corruption police raid regional development ministry headquarters

Special anti-corruption police swooped on the main headquarters of the Ministry of Regional Development in Prague on Thursday. The news server Echo.24 said that police are looking for evidence in connection with exorbitant information technology contracts signed in recent years. It added that the main contract in question is one for around 1 billion crowns to document all European Union grants between 2014 and 2020. The tender was awarded to the companies Tesco SW and Datasys. Tesco SW describes itself as one of the Czech Republic’s most important IT suppliers.

Czech PM Sobotka says no rush to extend Russian sanctions

The Czech Republic is for the extension of European Union sanctions against Russia but does not see an immediate need to take the decision, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Thursday. Sobotka was speaking at the start of a two day European Union summit in Brussels. Countries appeared split on whether to immediately extend sanctions over Russian aggression in Ukraine. A group of countries including Germany and Britain were reportedly pressing for an immediate decision but Sobotka added that delay might be a better tactical step for the EU. The sanctions imposed last summer are due to expire on July 31. The Czech Republic has been overwhelmingly cautious over the last year about increasing pressure on Moscow.

ANO extends popularity lead according to CVVM poll

The ANO party of businessman Andrej Babiš would emerge as the clear winner in elections to the lower house of parliament, according to a poll by the CVVM agency. The March survey showed ANO extending its preference lead over the Social Democrats of prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. ANO gained 33% of voting intentions in the March poll against 26% for the Social Democrats. The third placed party was the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia with 11%. The Christian Democrats followed with 8.5% of preferences with TOP 09 close behind with 8%. The Civic Democrats would also squeeze into the lower house with 6.5%, the survey said. The recently split Dawn Party scored just 1.5% backing. ANO’s March score equals its highest popularity levels over the last year and a half.

Pope names new bishop of České Budějovice diocese

Pope Francis has named Vlastímil Kročil as the new bishop of the České Budějovice diocese. The diocese has been without a bishop for the last since the previous incumbent stepped down for health reasons. After graduating from school in 1986, Kročil applied three times to study at the seminary in Litoměřice but was prevented from the then Communist authorities from doing so. He eventually emigrated in 1988 and studied in Rome. In the 1990s, the České Budějovice bishop was Miloslav Vlk, who later went on Prague archbishop and later cardinal.

Škoda Auto workers ready for protest strikes

Unions at car maker Škoda Auto have warned they are willing to stage protest strikes in pursuit of their pay claims according to a union newspaper cited by the ČTK agency. Unions are currently seeking wage hikes of 6.5 percent but management are sticking to an offer of 2.6 percent. The two sides have already agreed on a record bonus for workers of 25,000 crowns for last year. Škoda Auto employs around 24,000 people and is the biggest car producer in the country.

Advent of Babiš’s ANO petrifying development, says Klaus

Former prime minister and president Václav Klaus says Czech politics has entered a second post-1989 phase with the advent of the ANO party of billionaire businessman Andrej Babiš. Mr. Klaus told Czech Television that the development was petrifying. He said he did not see any force on the political scene capable of halting the rise of ANO, who are the second biggest party in the coalition government and regularly top opinion polls. Mr. Babiš, who is minister of finance, owns two daily newspapers and the country’s most popular radio station.

Nova: Health of former prime minister Gross deteriorating

The health of former Czech prime minister Stanislav Gross has deteriorated, TV Nova said on Wednesday. Mr. Gross, 45, is reported to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which leads to the wasting of the muscles and paralysis. His former Social Democrat party colleague Zdeněk Škromach told Nova that Mr. Gross was no longer accepting visitors at his home. Mr. Gross became the youngest prime minister in Europe in 2003. However, he was forced to quit the post within a year when questions were raised about he had funded his apartment.

Czech singled out by polar bear

A Czech has been the victim of a polar bear attack in the far north of Norway. The man, one of six campers on the Svalbard archipelago, was mauled during the attack and was taken to hospital. The bear was later shot dead. Tourists have been concentrating at Svalbard and other northern localities for a full eclipse of the sun which will only be visible from the Arctic. Local authorities had warned eclipse seekers of the danger of bear attacks. Polar bears outnumber residents in the Svalbard, or Spitsbergen, group of islands.

Viktoria Plzeň extend lead at top of Synot League

In football, Viktoria Plzeň extended their lead in the top Czech league to five points after a labored 1:0 win against Slavia Praha on Wednesday night. The sole goal came in the 72nd minute from substitute Jan Holenda. It was his first goal for the club. The win follows the weekend draw by main Synot League title challengers Sparta Praha against third Jablonec. Plzeň’s next game is against bottom of the table Liberec.

František Rajtoral called up to national squad for Latvia qualifier

The manager of the Czech national football team, Pavel Vrba, has called up Plzeň defender František Rajtoral for the upcoming 2016 European Championship qualifying matches against Latvia. Rajtoral makes a return to the squad after a year. He last played in Vrba’s opening game as manager in the 2:2 draw against Norway. The Latvia games will be played in Prague on March 28. The remaining two members of the squad will be named by the end of the week. The Czechs have won all four of their qualifying games so far and are three points clear of second placed Iceland in the qualifying group.