A bout of freezing cold weather has claimed the lives of seven people in the Czech Republic, five in the last week alone. The authorities have urged people not to underestimate the risk and a boatel for the homeless on the Vltava river said it still had around 50 vacancies a night. However most shelters do not provide accommodation during the day, leaving homeless people to fend for themselves in minus ten degree temperatures. Hospitals report an increase in the number of patients with frostbite, saying not all of them are homeless people.
Meteorologists reported record night time lows of minus 26,5 in the Šumava mountains and have warned drivers not to set out for southern Bohemia without winter tyres, shovels and chains. The weather has caused traffic problems around the country. A thaw is expected mid-week.
Four Northern White rhinos from the Dvur Králové Zoo have arrived safely in the Ol Pejeta reserve in central Kenya where they will be set free in a last-ditch attempt to save the rare species from extinction. The four rhinos are half the known population left in the world and have had problems breeding in captivity, with only one birth reported in the last ten years. Zoologists are hoping that their return to the wild will spur mating. The decision to move the rhinos has aroused criticism from some animal rights activists who say the plan puts the animals at risk because they have spent all of their lives in very different conditions than those they will now experience in Africa.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fisher has called for greater fiscal discipline, stressing the need to keep next year’s budget deficit under 5.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Speaking on a panel debate on Czech television, the prime minister strongly criticized the efforts of left-wing parties to dismantle the cost-cutting measures proposed by the cabinet. After pushing through proposals for increased spending in the public and agriculture sectors, the Social Democrats are now planning to fight for higher illness subsidies, maternity benefits and a so-called 13th salary, an annual Christmas bonus in the public sector.
Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek has suggested politicians lower the deficit in other ways such as cutting back on unnecessary trips abroad and reviewing the high bonuses paid to the managers of state-owned companies. The right-wing Civic Democrats have urged the cabinet to fight for its austerity measures.
The Cabinet will meet on Monday to decide the fate of a number of Czech embassies and consulates around the world which have been slated for closure within cost-cutting measures stemming from the economic crisis. According to a decision made in October the country should close down its embassies in Angola, Zimbabwe, Columbia, Canada and Brazil as well as its consulate in Sydney, Australia. The planned move has evoked a wave of protests, particularly as concerns the closure of the consulate in Sydney. The cabinet also came under fire from the foreign affairs committee in the Chamber of Deputies for failing to consult the decision.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Sunday dismissed speculation that he would remain in politics after the next general elections in May of 2010. The former head of the Czech Statistical Office, who took over after the fall of the centre-right government of Mirek Topolanek in May of this year, enjoys a high rate of public support and there has been speculation that he might be persuaded to take up a political career full-time. Mr. Fischer told Czech public television that he had no intention of joining any party and would return to his former profession when his tenure as caretaker prime minister expires.
The police have arrested a foreign national who is believed to have operated a phishing scheme targeting an unnamed US bank. The man is suspected of having siphoned off thousands of dollars from clients’ accounts, and deposited some of it in a Czech bank in view of purchasing gold in the country. The police were alerted to the suspicious transactions by the Finance Ministry.
A group of Czech hardy men and women braved the freezing cold to mark the second anniversary of the Czech accession to the Schengen border-free zone with a swim in the river Dyje (Thaya) that flows from the Czech Republic to Austria. The group of around thirty people dived into the river and swum a kilometre-long stretch crossing over to the Austrian side. The fittest among them covered the distance in 14 minutes. The temperature of the air was minus 6 degrees Celsius, that of the water 1 degree above zero. Although there were no Austrians in the group the mayor of the nearest town, Bernardsthal, came to the banks of the river to cheer the swimmers on.
Many Czech retailers report a significant hike in sales in the run up to Christmas, despite a slow start ascribed to the economic crisis. Tesco stores report a 55 percent sales hike around the country, while smaller stores reported an increase of 15 to 20 percent. Statistics show that consumers spent as much money or slightly more than in the run up to last Christmas. However year-one-year sales are expected to drop by five percent, indicating that Czechs are more careful with their money.
Rail traffic from Brno to Kurimi, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, was disrupted for more than two hours after a 40-year-old man committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the incident happened in rough terrain meaning passengers could not disembark and had to wait for the investigation to be concluded. The delay affected half a dozen trains in both directions, since traffic had to be restricted to a single track.
Monday is expected to bring a slight warming with sunny to partly cloudy skies and day temperatures at minus 2 to minus 6 degrees Celsius.