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Teachers plan nationwide all-day strike on 6 November over salaries

Teacher unions plan to stage an all-day strike on Wednesday (6 November) after their demands for salary increases were not met. Most schools will be closed for the day or have limited schedules, ČTK reports.

The unions are asking for 10-percent increase – on condition that it pertains to their basic pay alone. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and Minister of Education Robert Plaga (ANO) this week offered an 8 percent raise.

The average monthly gross salary of a teacher was around 36,200 crowns in the first quarter of 2019 while the national average stood at 32,466 crowns.

Kyiv calls in Czech ambassador over Prague Castle invite to pro-Russian Crimean Tatars

Czech ambassador to Ukraine Radek Matula was called in by Kyiv to explain why pro-Russian Crimean Tatar activists were invited to celebrations at Prague Castle on 28 October marking Czechoslovakia's founding.

Activists from the group Kyrym birligi (Crimean Unity) were invited by the Office of the Czech President. They later wrote on Facebook that President Miloš Zeman had recognised Crimea as being part of Russia.

Ambassador Matula reportedly assured officials in Kyiv that the foreign policy stance of the Czech Republic – that the Russian annexation of Crimea is unlawful – has not changed.

A spokesman for the Czech president at first declined to state Zeman’s position but later said he continues to believe the annexation was illegal.

Four people injured by explosion at Semtex plant

Four people have been seriously injured in an accident at an explosives factory in Pardubice. The powerful blast occurred at the Explosia plant in the suburbs of the east-Bohemian town on Friday morning.

According to the spokesman of the rescue service, two people suffered burns on more than 30 percent of their bodies and had to be put in an artificial coma. The plant manufactures the plastic explosive Semtex, often used in terrorist attacks because of its high performance and easy use.

Ex-Energy Regulatory Office head Vitásková gets suspended sentence for abuse of power

Former Energy Regulatory Office (ERÚ) director Alena Vitásková was sentenced on Friday for abuse of power to a two-year sentence, suspended for 30 months. The ruling by the Jihlava court thus upheld a court of appeal verdict issued last year.

Vitásková, who lead the ERÚ from 2011 to 2017, was accused by the police in mid-2015 of abuse of power and breaching her duty to manage property. The charges related to her hiring of former supreme state attorney Renata Vesecká to a top post within the ERÚ although she had not experience in energy regulation.

Vitásková was also the subject of another court case for having allegedly issued permits to solar facility operators before the sites were operational, thereby allowing substantially higher subsidy payments. The high court in Olomouc dropped those charges against her due to a lack of evidence.

Previously, the regional court in Brno had found Vitásková guilty and handed her an 8.5 year sentence. According to that verdict, she prevented investigation into the matter, enabling those involved to meet a deadline for substantially higher subsidy payments.

Czech scientists grow plants for cultivation on Mars using aeroponics

Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food under extreme conditions and in environments lacking water – such as Mars, Reuters reports.

The “Marsonaut” experiment by 29-year-old scientist Jan Lukačevič and his team at the University of Life Sciences in Prague is based on aeroponics — growing plants in the air, without soil, and limiting water use to a minimum.

Using aeroponics, plants grow horizontally from a vertical unit and are stacked one above the other in order to minimise space.

Lukačevič told Reuters his team has already succeeded in growing mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs, such as basil and mint.

The main benefit of aeroponics is that it uses 95 percent less water than normal plant cultivation and saves space, which could boost agricultural yields in areas hit by climate change and urbanisation.

Czech Post head offers sites for PM Babiš’s planned government quarter

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) said on Twitter that Czech Post director Roman Knap has suggested sites it owns in Prague’s Malešice district could be used for hosting a new government quarter.

Babiš argues that building a special quarter for government ministries and agencies now located in central Prague would save taxpayers some 378 million crowns annually on rent.

Talks between the government and Prague City Hall about building the quarter in the Letňany district have deadlocked over the conditions under which the premises would be made available.

Babiš said on Twitter he plans to visit the Czech Post site proposed by Knap later this month.

ANO’s junior coalition partners the Social Democrats (ČSSD) warn Babiš’s plan could threaten the historical locations currently housing ministries and say it needs to be analysed in more depth.

CVVM poll: Support rises for Babiš’s ANO, drops below 5 pct threshold for Okamura’s SPD

Support for Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s centre-right ANO party has risen 3.5 percentage points (pp) to 33.5 percent since September, according to the latest poll by the Centre for Public Opinion Research (CVVM).

ANO’s coalition partner, the left-leaning Social Democrats (ČSSD) polled at 10 percent and the Communists, whose support the minority government relies on, polled at 8.5 percent.

Meanwhile, support for the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) led by Tomio Okamura dropped by 4 pp to 4.5 percent – 0.5 pp below the threshold for gaining seats in the lower house of Parliament.

The opposition Pirate Party is now polling at 14 percent, up 1 pp, and the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) at 13.5 percent, up 1.5 pp.

The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) polled at the 5 percent, TOP 09 at 4 percent, and the Mayors and Independents (STAN) at 2.5 percent, a drop of 2 pp.

The CVVM poll was conduction from 4 to 20 October, after the constituent assembly of the new right-wing Tricolour party of Václav Klaus Jr, which polled at 3 percent.

Czech manufacturing PMI edges up 45.0 in October, weakest since mid-2009

The IHS Markit Czech Republic Manufacturing PMI edged up to 45.0 in October 2019 from 44.9 in the previous month. It remains at the weakest level since mid-2009.

The reading pointed to the 11th straight month of contraction in the manufacturing sector, but was the softest since June, Markit Economics said.

The rate of decline in both new orders and new export eased slightly; while employment fell at the fastest rate for almost a decade.

On the price front, input costs rose as lower demand for inputs limited supplier pricing power; while output costs increased for the first time since July despite weak demand conditions.

Sentiment towards output over the coming year was negative for the first time since December 2012, Markit Economics said, as hopes of a pick-up in demand waned.

Czechs develop AI system to cover Prague Stock Exchange news

Czech computer science academics have developed an artificial intelligence system to automatically generate news about developments on the Prague Stock Exchange, in cooperation with the state news agency ČTK.

The tool was created by scientists of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University (FSV UK), Czech Technical University (ČVUT) and the University of West Bohemia (ZČU).

Testing is set to begin in the coming days. In future, the AI system could be adapted to cover the weather, sports and other topics, ČTK reports.

One in five Czechs plan cemetery visits on Dušičky (All Souls’ Day)

Czechs on Saturday will mark Dušičky – or All Souls’ Day – a traditional Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away.

According to a STEM / MARK survey, around four in five Czechs follow the tradition in some manner, but only one in five are likely to visit a cemetery precisely on All Souls’ Day.

Many Czechs mark Dušičky by visiting and tending to graves, where they light candles. From 1 to 3 November, all 29 Prague cemeteries will have extended hours, remaining open until 6:00 pm.

On Saturday at 5:00 pm, Prague Cardinal Dominik Duka will serve a mass to commemorate the departed at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Vyšehrad.

Dušičky was a national holiday in Czechoslovakia, as it is still in neighbouring Slovakia and Poland. According to the STEM / MARK poll, half of Czechs do not think it should be a state-recognised holiday.

Sixth annual Aussie and Kiwi film fest gets underway in Prague

The sixth annual Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest gets underway in Prague on Friday night at Prague’s Lucerna theatre with a screening of the comedy drama ‘Ladies in Black.’

The festival, which this year focuses on the theme of freedom, will offer movie screenings and accompanying events, including an exhibition of photographs by Jiří Jírů called ‘Havel in New Zealand’ and a discussion at the Václav Havel Library about Czechoslovak emigration to Australia and New Zealand. The Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest will run until November 6.

Weather outlook

Saturday should be cool and cloudy, with occasional light rainfall expected. Average daytime highs should range from 9 to 12 degrees Celsius.