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Czech diplomats negotiate release of German NGO workers in Syria

Acting Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Hamáček (Social Democrats) arrived in Damascus on Thursday to take over and return home two people working for a German humanitarian organisation who had been held by the Syrian government. They had been arrested months ago near the Iraqi border for allegedly crossing the border illegally.

The Czech Republic is currently the only EU country with an ambassador in the war-torn country and carried out the negotiations with the consent of authorities in Brussels.

During a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Mr Hamáček strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons and stressed perpetrators must be brought to justice. He also said the withdrawal of Iranian forces from the Israel-Syria border area would contribute to stability in the region.

Two-thirds of gaseous pollutants in Prague generated by just 10 pct of vehicles

A study commissioned by Prague City Hall on traffic and air pollution has found that more two-thirds of gaseous pollutants are generated by just 10 per cent of the vehicles operating in the Czech capital.

Many of these vehicles have missing or faulty exhaust systems or diesel engines in poor condition, the study found. The Prague municipality is now looking at ways to improve the city’s air quality, which could include measures such as introducing a congestion tax.

Harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, mercury and dust particles are a leading cause of respiratory diseases and result in an estimated 11,000 premature deaths in the Czech Republic each year.

Czech Airbnb hosts face 40 per cent penalty on unpaid taxes

The General Directorate of Finance (GFŘ) says it has records of the untaxed revenue of Czech Airbnb hosts dating back to 2015 and will soon begin collecting them, the daily Hospodářské noviny reports.

Apart from back payments, the tax authority plans to impose penalties of up to 40 per cent. The GFŘ also considers Airbnb hosts to be subject to VAT payments for the fees Airbnb charges.

In Prague, Airbnb hosts may also owe fees to the municipality, which can charge a penalty of up to 500,000 crowns for failing to register for local taxes.

Czech writer Karel Čapek’s villa to open briefly to the public

Czech writer Karel Čapek’s villa will briefly open to the public on Thursday, despite an ongoing reconstruction. Visitors will be able to admire Čapek’s library and personal archive with some of its original furnishings.

The 1920s villa, where Capek hosted intellectuals and cultural figures of the time, opened to the public on July 20th to mark the centenary of the birth of Czechoslovakia and the public interest was overwhelming. The renovation of the villa should be concluded by 2021.

Consumer prices up 2.3 per cent in July

Consumer price inflation slowed to 2.3 per cent in July from 2.6 per cent in June, the Czech Statistical Office said on Thursday.

Compared to July 2017, housing and fuel prices, in particular, grew while prices for clothing, footwear and telecommunication services dropped.

Fuel and oil prices rose by 12.6 per cent year-on-year in July, the cost of electricity increased by 5 per cent, and residential rental prices grew by 3.2 per cent.

Study: those taking longer maternity leave earn less upon return to work

Mothers who stay at home with children for a shorter period tend to earn more upon returning to work than those who take longer maternity leaves, according to a new study, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported.

Under current law, a parental leave benefit is paid monthly for a period of up to four years. Parents can opt to draw down more money over a shorter period, with the monthly allowance currently capped at 32,640 crowns.

The new study by economist Barbara Pertold-Gebická found that mothers with a university education take shorter maternity leaves.

Audit reveals irregularities in financing at GIBS

An audit by the Finance Ministry at the General Inspectorate of the Security Forces (GIBS) has revealed irregularities in financing, the ministry’s spokesman Michal Žurovec told Czech Radio.

The ministry has reportedly filed a criminal complaint on the grounds of the findings.

According to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who commissioned the audit, inspectors found irregularities in the distribution of a 15 million crown sum.

Mr. Babiš said the results of the audit had confirmed his fears and justified his decision in calling on the institution’s former head Michal Murín to resign.

US Department of Energy moving European office to Prague

The US Department of Energy plans to move its European regional office to Prague from Sofia, with the decision reportedly influenced by Westinghouse's interest in building new nuclear blocks in the Czech Republic and the growing influence in Central Europe of Russia and China.

The US Embassy in Prague confirmed the planned move but did not comment on the reasons behind it beyond saying in a statement that the European region office works to promote energy security, non-proliferation, scientific cooperation, and American commercial interests in the region.

Weather outlook

It should rain throughout most of the Czech Republic on Friday, with thunderstorms expected in the Zlín region. Daytime highs of 26 degrees Celsius are forecast for Central Bohemia while temperatures could reach 34 degrees in Moravia.