The only remaining contender in the privatisation tender for Czech Airlines, a consortium of Czech firms Unimex and Travel Service, offered on Wednesday one billion crowns, or nearly 58 million US dollars, for 92 percent of shares of the state-owned carrier. The Czech government will take two weeks to assess the offer.
The consortium of Unimex and Travel Service is the only contender left in the tender after the airline Air France-KLM pulled out in August, and Russia’s Aeroflot was excluded over from the final round.
In related news, Czech MPs approved on Wednesday a bill preventing the government from privatising Prague’s Ruzyně Airport. The bill, proposed by Social Democrats, also received support from Communist and Christian Demcorat MPs. The Social Democrats are concerned that selling the airport at a time of the economic crisis would result in a loss for the Czech state. Plans for the privatisation of Ruzyně Airport were approved last year by the cabinet of PM Mirek Topolánek.
The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Klaus. Observers believe however that Parliament’s upper chamber, with its majority of right-wing senators, will return the bill to the Chamber of Deputies.
Former Czech president Václav Havel received the Golden Hen award in Berlin on Wednesday in recognition of his courage in the revolutionary year of 1989, as well as of his life-time political work. During his four-day visit to the German capital on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mr Havel will meet with German President Horst Köhler, former German head of state Richard von Weizsacker as well as the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
In related news, Václav Havel has warned against the rise of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. In an interview for the German weekly Die Zeit that will appear on Thursday, Mr Havel also criticized Russia over the killings of independent journalists.
Reflecting on the two decades since the fall of communism, Mr Havel noted that all the fundamental objectives set down in 1989 were reached. However, the changes took much longer and were much more difficult than he expected, the former Czech president added.
The Czech Republic’s foreign debt dropped in the second quarter of 2009 by 17.9 billion crowns to 1.47 trillion crowns, or more than 85 billion US dollars, according to figures released by the Czech central bank on Wednesday. The debt accounted for around 40 percent of the country’s GDP. Central bank officials said the drop was caused by a decrease in obligations of the banking and commercial sectors, as well as by the strengthening Czech crown.
The US-based Global Finance Magazine has put the governor of the Czech National Bank, Zdeněk Tůma, among the world’s top seven central bankers for 2009. According to the magazine, Mr Tůma responded well to the imminent economic slowdown by trimming rates in August last year, a move that proved successful. The only other European top graded central banker was European Central Bank’s Jean-Claude Trichet.
The Czech army received on Wednesday a delivery of 17 Pandur armoured vehicles from the Austrian manufacturer, Steyer. The first series was made in Austria while the remaining 90 vehicles commissioned will be produced in the Czech Republic. The army plans to integrate the Pandur II wheeled armoured vehicles into the armament of Czech mechanized units, deployed on foreign missions, particularly in Afghanistan.
The Czech Army signed a 14.4 billion crown, or nearly 84 million US dollar deal with Austria’s Steyr arms manufacturer in 2006; the deal was later cancelled over the Austrian company’s failure to meet some of the contract conditions. The Czech government finally approved the purchase in March last year.
The acting director of Czech Radio, Richard Medek, was elected the new CEO of the country’s public broadcaster on Wednesday. Mr Medek, who was appointed the acting director after the Czech Radio Council removed the previous CEO in July, said his priorities included a 10 percent job cut and a licence fee raise. Mr Medek was previously Czech Radio’s programme director, and has also worked in several commercial media outlets.
The Freedom Train commemorating the escape of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Prague in the autumn of 1989, arrived in the Czech capital on Wednesday. September 30 marks 20 years since thousands of refugees, camping on the premises of West German embassy in Prague, were allowed to emigrate to the West. The Freedom Train will leave for Bavaria on Thursday retracing the historic journey, with a group of former East German refugees.
Several parts of Prague, including the city centre, were affected by a large-scale blackout on Wednesday morning caused by a substation failure. The power cut, which lasted for some 50 minutes, caused severe traffic jams around the city due to dysfunctional traffic lights. Authorities said electricity supplies were re-established by 10 AM.
Colder weather should continue for the rest of the week, with overcast skies and rain showers throughout Bohemia and Moravia. Highest day temperatures should range between 12 and 17 degrees Celsius.