Czechs are gearing up to ring in the New Year at events in Prague and elsewhere in the country. The biggest celebration will be in the centre of the capital, where free pop concerts are being held on Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. At the same time, thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who opposed the split of Czechoslovakia will follow the tradition of meeting on the mountain Velká Javořina, which straddles the borders of the two states. Many Czech cities and towns will put on municipal fireworks displays, though Prague and some other centres will instead hold theirs on New Year’s Day.
The biggest bell in St. Vitus Cathedral, known as Zikmund, will not ring in the New Year as usual, the cathedral’s chief bell ringer Tomáš Stařecký, told the ctk news agency. Experts say the bell is not in good shape and may have been damaged by the new clapper which was installed in 2002 after the old one cracked. Zikmund dates back to 1549 and is the biggest bell in the country. The oldest Czech bell- Vaclav – is also at St. Vitus - and was cast in 1542.
Czechs are not big spenders on New Years Eve, according to the results of a poll conducted by CSOB bank. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they spent under 500 crowns on food and drink for the New Year’s table and only 12 percent said their expenditures reached 1,000 crowns. Czechs traditionally eat a wide variety of open-faced sandwiches on New Year’s Eve accompanied by sparkling wine.
One of the last surviving Czechoslovak WWII veterans, Brigadier General Alexander Beer died on Thursday at the age of 98, the ctk news agency reported citing Defense Minister Martin Stropnický. Brigadier General Beer fought in the Czechoslovak unit on the Eastern front during World War Two, where he was severely wounded. In 2012 he received the highest Czech state distinction – the Order of the White Lion from then president Vaclav Klaus.
The police’s anti-corruption squad Kobra has charged five people with large-scale tax evasion, police spokesperson Jaroslav Ibehej told the ctk news agency. The group, operating in sales of electronics, had established a chain of business companies with the help of which they issued fictitious invoices for non-existent business transactions. The damage to state coffers is estimated at around 112 million crowns.
Kobra was set up in June of 2014 to help reduce the staggering sum of approximately 150 billion crowns that the country loses annually through tax evasion. In the first year of its existence it prevented tax evasion to the tune of 1.9 billion crowns and provided evidence on the grounds of which 200 people were charged.
Communist MEP Miloslav Ransdorf, who faces accusations of large-scale fraud, has hit out at the party and its chairman Vojtěch Filip. Mr. Ransdorf told the newspaper Lidové noviny that the Communist Party had become part of the establishment and ought to replace Mr. Filip with Josef Skála, who plans to run against the incumbent for the leadership next year. Responding to the comments, deputy chairman Jiří Dolejš said the MEP should concentrate on his own defence and clearing his name. Mr. Ransdorf spent three days in custody in Switzerland earlier this month after being arrested while attempting to withdraw hundreds of millions of euros from a bank, allegedly using false documents.
Czech household debt is on the rise with the overall sum owned to banks reaching 1.321 billion crowns at the end of November, according to statistics released by the Czech National Bank on Thursday. The debts of Czech households to banks grew by 6.3 billion month on month and by 90 billion year on year. Housing loans traditionally make up the biggest part of household debts. The debts of businesses decreased slightly dropping by 247 million month on month to 1.127 billion crowns.
Strong winds have brought to a halt the cabin funicular running to the peak of the Ještěd ski resort in Liberec, one of the most popular winter resorts in the Czech Republic. According to Vladimir Štepan, who is in charge of the funicular it was no longer possible to keep it running. The past 24 hours have brought winds of over 100 km/hour and they may not subside until the New Year. The funicular has a capacity of 35 persons and runs at a max speed of 36km/hour. The length of trail to Ješted is 1188m.
Air pollution in the Moravia-Silesia region has worsened, the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institute reported on Thursday. The amount of dust particles in the air now twice exceeds permitted levels at most monitoring stations in the region. Moravia and Silesia are one of Europe’s most polluted regions due to heavy industry located on both sides of the Czech-Polish border. Air pollution is a problem especially in the winter months, when the situation is aggravated by coal heating.
Meteorologists have issued a black ice warning for most of the country on Thursday night and Friday morning. Night temperatures are expected to drop to minus 6 degrees C and after an unseasonably warm month Czechs may see the first snow of this winter on Sunday.
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