The Czech president, Václav Klaus, signed on Friday a controversial bill barring the media from publishing or broadcasting police wiretaps. After the law enters into force in May, any journalist who publishes transcripts of phone calls intercepted by the police will face a fine of five million crowns or five years in jail.
Last week MPs from most parties in the Chamber of Deputies voted to overturn a Senate veto on the law. A number of Czech and international journalists’ groups, including Reporters without Borders and European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, have called on Mr Klaus not to sign the bill, which they say is an infringement on the freedom of the press.
The Czech economy grew by one percent in the final quarter of 2008, the Czech Statistical Office reported on Friday. The growth was contrary to earlier predictions. Overall last year, the economy grew by 3.5 percent. Statisticians say that while the country was not fully hit by the worldwide economic downturn last year, it was affected by a falling global demand for products and services. Czech banks were also more cautious in providing loans.
The Czech central bank expects the GDP to sink by 0.3 percent this year, while the Finance Ministry optimistically predicts a 1.4 growth. Analysts believe however that the Czech economy will plunge into recession in 2009.
The new American administration is open to new possibilities of cooperation with Russia on missile defence, US Undersecretary of State William Burns told the Russian news agency, Interfax, on Friday. Mr Burns, who is visiting Moscow, said that the US would continue to “consult closely” their partners in the Czech Republic and Poland on the issue. He also said no US president can afford a situation in which the United States is vulnerable to potential threats from countries like North Korea or Iran.
The Czech government signed treaties with the United States last summer on hosting an American radar base in central Bohemia, a project strongly opposed by Russia. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg in Washington last week that the project might be reconsidered, depending on Iran’s willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions.
The Supreme Audit Office filed several criminal complaints in connection with the upcoming Nordic World Ski Championship, which will start in the north-Bohemian town of Liberec next week. The auditors believe the municipality of Liberec and the town’s Technical University broke several laws during preparations; they suspect that tens of millions of crowns were embezzled in the process. Organizers as well as the municipality have rejected the accusations.
The Nordic Ski World Championship had already been criticized for relying too much on public finances; the Czech government has spent around 1.5 billion crowns, or more than 67 million US dollars, on the event.
PM Mirek Topolánek told reporters on Thursday that the government might release classified background information on a meeting between a Social Democrat lobbyist and the head of the president’s office, Jiří Weigl, which took place at Prague’s Savoy Hotel days before the presidential election in February last year. Video footage of the meeting was made public and led to speculation that President Klaus was attempting to illicitly gain votes from some Social Democrat MPs. An ex-policeman and a former employee of the Czech intelligence service, BIS, were accused of leaking the footage and are facing five years in prison.
An electric cooker has been established as the cause of a large fire which destroyed part of the Art Deco Industrial Palace at Prague’s exhibition grounds last October. The biggest fire Prague had seen in more than three decades erupted in the left wing of the palace during a dentistry technology expo, causing damages that amounted up to one billion crowns, or nearly 45 million US dollars.
An epidemic of flu, which has affected the Czech Republic in recent weeks, is receding, the country’s hygiene officers said on Friday. The number of Czechs infected with flu dropped by seven percent last week. The epidemic should fade away by mid March, with the total number of persons down with flu is not expected to exceed two million.
An 18-year-old snowboarder died on Friday in the Jeseníky Mountains, northern Moravia, after having been rescued from an avalanche. He was rescued by three of his friends; mountain rescuers than transported him to a valley. His wounds were however so severe that he died in an ambulance on the way to hospital. Rescuers said bad weather did not allow them to use a helicopter.
23-year-old Czech goalkeeper Tomáš Černý, of Hamilton Academical FC, has won the Scottish league’s Player of the Month award. The Accies’ goalie, who is on a year’s loan from the Czech club of Sigma Olomouc, has kept a clean sheet for 495 minutes. He told reporters he would like to stay in Scotland as both clubs have already agreed on a transfer price.
The weekend will be mostly cloudy with frequent snowfall in most parts of the Czech Republic. Highest day temperatures should not exceed 0 degrees Celsius.