President Václav Klaus met with his one-time rival, former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman at Prague Castle on Tuesday. Mr. Zeman is now leading a new left-wing party that will run in the spring general elections, but both politicians stressed that it had been an informal meeting unrelated to Mr. Zeman’s political comeback. In what was termed a general debate, the two former rivals agreed that the Czech Republic was badly in need of strong leadership, describing the present situation as a political void. The two politicians were involved in a number of political conflicts during the nineties, when Mr. Klaus was the head of the Civic Democrats and Mr. Zeman the leader of the Social Democrats, but they put aside their differences to form a hidden grand coalition in 1998.
In an exclusive interview for the online news site of the weekly Týden, Vladimír Špidla, whose term as EU Employment Commissioner is drawing to a close, confirmed that he plans to run for a seat in the Senate for the Social Democrats upon his return to the Czech Republic. The leader of the Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek told journalists on Tuesday that his party will collaborate with Mr. Špidla in the parliamentary elections. Mr. Špidla said in the interview that he will be running for the Český Krumlov region. He added that his candidacy will be decided on by the end of February. In Brussels, Mr. Špidla will be succeeded by Stefan Füle as European Commissioner for Enlargement.
Across the country, new snowfalls have been leading to car and truck collisions, road blockades and traffic jams. Five cars collided on the D5 highway some 20 kilometers from Prague on Tuesday morning and the D1 highway from Prague to Brno had to be partly closed down due to a pile-up. Traffic police reported numerous accidents around the country and have warned drivers to exercise extreme caution. Meteorologists have also been issuing warnings and are predicting severe conditions on Czech roads on Tuesday night, when temperatures will drop from -9 degrees Celsius in the evening to up to -25 degrees Celsius at night.
This year’s first session of the lower house on Tuesday came to an abrupt end before it had properly got underway. The chairman of the lower house Miloslav Vlček decided to postpone Tuesday’s session to Wednesday after MPs presented him with numerous proposals on changes to the agenda. After consulting with the heads of all parliamentary clubs, Mr. Vlček ended the session and said that MPS should look over which points they deem most worthy of discussion. With spring elections coming up, this session is the last that will allow the caretaker government to get proposals for legislative changes approved.
The controversial purchase of luxury Hummer SUVs for the Prague city police will now be the subject of criminal investigation. The Prague City Police did not announce a tender for the purchase, claiming that it had no legal obligation to do so since the value of the cars was under the legal threshold for public tenders- purchases of two million Czech crowns and over. But the anti-corruption watchdog agency Transparency International has issued a statement calling the actions of the Prague City Police “a classic way of violating the law on public tenders” since the police had divided the whole purchase into several smaller ones. For the time being, Mayor of Prague Pavel Bém has decided to send the SUVs to the Czech mission in Haiti, since there is no need for such cars in the city itself.
Members of the Jewish and non-Jewish community commemorated the victims of the Holocaust at the former site of the Teplice synagogue on Tuesday. The head of the Teplice Jewish community told journalists that the event was meant to remind people of the six million victims of the Holocaust and that remembering them was important, especially since Holocaust deniers exist to this day. In the 1930s, some 5000 Jews who lived in Teplice were sent to concentration camps and the local synagogue was burned down by the Nazis. The memorial that stands at the site of the burned down synagogue has often been vandalized. Its current form has also been the subject of harsh criticism by politicians. Some say it does not do justice to the cruelty it commemorates and needs to be made over.
According to data published by the Czech Social Security Administration, the number of Czechs who called in sick to work dropped by a considerable margin in the last year. Overall, 31 percent less Czechs called in sick last year as compared to the year before. The first three days that an employee stays in sick are not paid, so often, Czechs either ignore minor illnesses or take days off rather than taking sick days. While the overall number of occasions on which employees stayed at home dropped, the average length of time that Czechs spent at home on occasion of calling in sick increased last year. Prague and Central Bohemia saw the highest number of employees staying home due to illness; the Karlovy Vary region had the fewest incidents.
Prague’s Ruzyně airport presented a new tower simulating device for flight dispatcher training to the public on Wednesday. The device cost over 31 million crowns and is considered to be unique. The simulator can create a 3D image of almost any airport in the world, including four airports in the Czech Republic. Moreover, training conditions can be simulated for night and daytime, different weather conditions and allow dispatchers to switch from the tower view to a pilot’s view. In the past, the Czech Republic had to rent similar technology from abroad. The Czech Republic will now offer other countries, such as Germany, Poland and former Soviet member states, the opportunity to rent the new device.
Two men arrested in drug raid
Police arrested two drug producers in a drug raid near Prague that started last Wednesday. One of the men is a 50 year-old repeat offender who could face up to ten years in prison. Police raided his house and secured drug paraphernalia along with chemicals used in drug production and about sixty grams of methamphetamine. The man is currently in detention and is charged with illegal drug production. On Thursday, police raided another house and found a variety of chemicals along with 10 grams of methamphetamine, which lead to the arrest of a 27-year old man who now faces up to five years in prison. According to a police spokeswoman, both men had been suspected of illegally producing drugs for a period of time.
Czech EU parliament member Jan Brežina told journalists on Tuesday that the Czechs had filed new objections against the Polish registration of an EU specialty label for a Polish kind of salami. The Czech product klobasa is very similar to the product Poland is trying to register and the conflict has been going on for several years. Czechs argue that the Polish kabanos is not a traditional specialty, since it is produced in a few Central European countries and according to varying recipes. Mr. Brežina added that Czechs would be most deserving of the EU specialty label, since norms and techniques for the production of its klobasa salami were established in the 1970s.
On Tuesday night, temperatures are expected to drop to a record low of -25 degrees Celsius. Conditions over the next few days are expected to remain snowy and cold.