The government will aim to cut the public finance deficit below three percent of GDP by 2014 at the latest, interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer told journalists on Thursday, after meeting with the head of the Civic Democratic Party Mirek Topolánek. The plan received full backing from the head of the former centre-right government that was ousted in a no-confidence vote last year. The three percent margin is required for euro adoption, which the finance minister has said could be possible in seven year’s time. Earlier this week, the government interrupted discussion on an updated version of the convergence programme; the cabinet is expected to return to the issue on February 8.
The city of Prague will send 32 million crowns (the equivalent of around 1.7 million US dollars) to help victims of the Haiti earthquake, 12 million more than the amount already donated by the Czech government. City representatives reached the decision on Thursday, after rejecting an earlier proposal offering a lower sum. City representatives also allocated funds for three charities that have raised more than 50 million crowns in aid. Haiti was hit by a devastating quake on January 12 that claimed the lives of more than 150,000. The charities to receive funding are People in Need, ADRA, and Charita Czech Republic.
A branch of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada, together with other expatriate organisations, has sent an open letter and petition to the Czech government, protesting the planned shutdown of the Czech consulate in Montreal. The long-serving consulate is due to be closed on March 31 as a result of budget cuts. The Canadian organisation argued that the move will hurt the Czech Republic’s reputation, dampen tourism and hurt future business ties. Other Czech diplomatic missions are set to close in Angola and Brazil but similar moves in Zimbabwe, Columbia, and Australia, are currently under review.
President Václav Klaus, in his post as the commander in chief, has called on the country’s Chief Hygiene Officer, Michael Vit, to clarify whether the country is currently suffering a swine flu pandemic. The move, which the president outlined on his personal website, is in response to a mandatory vaccination against the new flu strain for members of the country’s defence ministry. The Czech president on Wednesday made clear that he considered the requirement regarding Czech soldiers highly questionable, saying they ought to be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted the shot. The defence minister has since reversed a blanket decision that all military personal be required to get the shot.
Members of the lower house have sent two draft amendments by the Social Democrats through to a second reading, raising maternity benefits to earlier levels and reintroducing payments for individuals caring for family members on the first three days of sick leave. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats attempted to reject both proposals but were short of votes, backed only by a number of unaffiliated deputies and several Christian Democrats. The approval of the amendments was preceded by almost four hours of heated debate. Prior to the vote Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Finance Minister Eduard Janota warned deputies not to pass the amendments. Mr Janota said that raising maternity benefits had been problematic even back in 2006, when the economy was robust, while the prime minister warned against a further deepening of the country’s debt.
Two Czechs who had been stranded at Machu Picchu in Peru along with around two thousand other tourists due to mudslides since Sunday, have been evacuated. Sources reported that there were three Czechs in the area – the two men and one woman – who were among those cut off. All three are now safe; the two men were evacuated on Wednesday by helicopter. Around 1,000 people remain at the site, with the Peruvian authorities saying that the rest of those stranded should be evacuated soon, although rain has complicated conditions. According to reports, helicopters have been able to transfer around 120 people per hour.
Prague city councillors made public on Thursday cultural grants approved by the city for 2010. Among the highest recipients this year are Prague’s Divadlo bez zábradlí, the DOX centre for contemporary art in Prague’s Holešovice district, and Strašnické divadlo, all receiving between 1.5 and 6.4 million crowns. The One World documentary film festival will also receive funding worth 1.2 million crowns.
Some at city hall have criticised the grant of 6.4 million awarded to Divadlo bez zábradlí, having earlier recommended roughly half of the final amount.
Police in Tišnov near Brno, in Moravia, have caught a group of six boys responsible for an estimated 50,000 crowns worth of damages caused by spray painting over the last three months. The group painted graffiti at more than 50 sites. Police spokesman Bohumil Malášek told the ČTK news agency that rounding up the six was a success on the part of police, who are only ever rarely able to apprehend vandals. The Brno area has seen a noted rise in vandalism - a development noted by local town halls. Sites hit by the group included garages, elementary schools, bus stops and even a local observatory.
The state-owned Lesy ČR, overseeing half of the country’s forestland, is to announce tenders in forestry as well as the sale of wood worth around 15 billion crowns. The tenders will cover work on some 108 areas of land, to be undertaken between 2011 and 2020, in total 12 million hectares, or roughly 90 percent of forest belonging to the firm. Contracts won will be signed for periods from one to up to ten years.
Several centimetres of snow fell in most parts of the Czech Republic on Wednesday night as well as part of Thursday, causing complications on the country’s roads. Due to strong winds snowdrifts formed at several places. However, temperatures rose considerably, after record lows of around -25 degrees Celsius. Much of the Czech Republic has been under a blanket of snow for almost two weeks now, with the capital Prague seeing its highest snowfalls in three decades.
An additional five skiers have been nominated to the Czech Olympic team ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the head of the Czech Olympic Committee Milan Jirásek revealed on Thursday. The number of Czech sportsmen and women taking part will be 93 in total. The support team will count an additional 95 persons. Among the additional skiers nominated is 23-year-old freestyle specialist Martina Konopová, who placed 10th at the World Cup event at Mont Gabriel, Quebec, in January 2009. She has not competed on snow since last February, after falling out with her former trainer and temporarily being taken off the national team. She trained jumps on water until last November.
A 16-year-old pitching prodigy from the Czech Republic, Štepán Havlíček, has signed a minor-league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, the US Major League Baseball club announced on Wednesday. Havlíček pitched for the Czech junior national team and struck out 13 batters in 11 1/3 scoreless innings during the European Junior Championships last August in Germany. According to sources, the Rays said Havlíček will likely attend some portion of spring training, which begins in late February, and play in Major League Baseball's Australia Academy later this year. The training will help determine at what level of the minor-league developmental system Havlíček might start in his pursuit of one day reach the roster of the Rays, who lost to Philadelphia in the 2008 World Series.
Mostly cloudy conditions with snowfall are expected in parts of the Czech Republic on Friday. Daytime temperatures should remain just a few degrees below zero, around -2 degrees Celsius.