The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has asked for increased Czech involvement in Afghanistan. He made the appeal after meeting with Czech politicians on Friday, including the country’s prime minister, Jan Fischer, and the heads of the two largest political parties, the Civic and Social Democrats. In a statement on Friday afternoon, NATO’s secretary general asked for more military training specialists as well as aid in the form of two medical clinics, but also made clear those were only part of the equation, stressing that NATO required an increase in Czech troops to take part in missions. Currently, the country has more than 500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but the government has planned to send an additional 55 troops: 15 military police to train local personnel, and 40 soldiers and two artillery hunting radars to help defend Polish bases in the province of Ghazni. The increase in troop levels was backed by Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek on Friday, but Jiří Paroubek's Social Democrats remain opposed to the plan. It remains unclear whether the plan will be able to pass in Parliament.
The Czech Senate has rejected an amendment to the law on the taxation of employee benefits. The proposed amendment, which aimed to return benefits to 2009 levels, was rejected by the majority of right-wing senators who said it threatened to increase the already steep budget deficit. The amendment was the result of the government’s effort to avert a nation-wide transport strike this week. Prior to the vote, Christian Democrats in the lower house said they will help overturn both the rejection by the Senate and an eventual veto by President Václav Klaus.
In related news, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes wrote on Friday that the government had lied to politicians about the impact of the proposed amendment on the country’s finances: they said it would increase the deficit by tens of millions of crowns, while the paper’s analysts had arrived at a much higher figure – well over a billion.
A special commission investigating the scandal regarding so-called fast-track graduates at the University of West Bohemia’s Faculty of Law has outlined 53 cases in which individuals could be retroactively stripped of their degrees, unless they provide additional documentation requested by the university. The commission made the announcement on Friday, saying that of the 53 cases, 44 involved Masters Degrees, while nine were Bachelors. The special commission, which was put together in Plzeň after the scandal broke last year, reportedly found that many of the problems at the law faculty were largely related to the former dean of the school, Milan Kindl. Discrepancies uncovered by the commission often had to do with missing documentation, from professors’ assessments to proofs of previous study. The current rector at the school has said it is not possible to say whether all 53 people will be stripped of their degrees, saying final decisions will depend on whether missing documents are retrieved.
The state attorney has proposed that 13 people from a controversial, now defunct squad run by the state-owned energy giant ČEZ to deal with customers suspected of stealing electricity, be charged with oppression. News website iDnes was the first to break the story on Friday, reporting that proceedings against a further 17 individuals had been dropped. The recommendation will now be passed onto the regional state attorney’s office in Olomouc. Controversy over the ČEZ squad erupted in early February, when images of the team’s behaviour, suggesting a wrongful use of authority, were first broadcast on national TV.
The Czech energy giant ČEZ, together with US partner AES, has backed out of tender for building a coal-fired power plant in Kosovo. ČEZ issued the statement at a press conference on Friday, citing delays in the tender as well as changes in construction parameters as the reasons for the decision. The tender is on the building of a new plant, while expanding the coal mine in Sibovc, Kosovo. The tender is reportedly worth an estimated 3.5 billion euros. ČEZ and AES applied for the tender in 2006, joined by Italy’s Enel Group and the Greek firm Sencap from the Public Power concern. Last year, Kosovo decided to call a new tender on the project, in which the final design was changed - halving the previous capacity of the proposed plant to 1000 megawatts.
The Health Ministry has said it is aiming to link a new network of existing medical centres focussing on patients suffering from stroke. To apply, centres will have to meet certain criteria, making them eligible for additional funding from insurance companies as well as funds from the European Union. The plan is to improve the overall quality of care and to provide patients suffering acute effects the best treatment as quickly as possible. Yearly, 55,000 Czechs suffer stroke, three times higher than in original EU countries. The number of stroke-related deaths, meanwhile, is double.
President Václav Klaus on Monday is to meet with the country’s prime minister, Jan Fischer, and the defence minister, Martin Barták, to discuss organisational changes planned in the military. The president revealed the information on his personal website but did not mention details. Last year, Mr Klaus stressed that the Czech Army should function primarily in defence of the state, calling foreign missions supplementary. Currently the army is facing a number of difficulties, among them the after effects of a scandal involving officers who displayed Nazi symbols. Other difficulties include cost-cutting measures, which forced the army last year to let go more than 2,700 people. Despite the cuts in spending, the military did sign a deal for 90 Iveco armoured vehicles for more than 3.6 billion crowns and four transport planes for 3.5 billion.
Britain’s Prince Charles, who will be visiting Prague later in March with his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will meet with former Czech president Václav Havel and his wife Dagmar during their stay. A statement was issued by the British Embassy in Prague on Friday, saying that the meeting between the couples had been planned for March 23. A day after arrival Prince Charles and Camilla will meet at Prague Castle with current president, Václav Klaus. During their stay they will also attend an official state dinner, tour Prague’s Church of Saint Kliment and attend a performance of Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre. Prince Charles will also head to Moravia to view an ecological village and to visit Masaryk University in Brno. The visit to the Czech Republic will be Prince Charles’s fifth.
Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych got off to an excellent start on Friday in the Czechs’ first game of this year’s Davis Cup. In the opening singles match in Belgium, Berdych beat No. 1 home player Olivier Rochus 6:3, 6:0, 6:4. The second match slated for Friday, pit Radek Štepánek against Xavier Malisse and was equally successful for the Czechs: Štepánek won in straight sets by a score of 6:2, 6:4 7:6. The Czechs are hoping to repeat last year’s highly-successful run, which saw them all the way through to the finals in Spain. While the Czechs played brilliantly against Croatia in the semis, they were unable to steal a win from Spain, the eventual tournament champions.
Czech forward Martin Erat earned two assists in the NHL on Thursday to help Nashville down Los Angeles 4:2. He was named the game’s second star. Erat has now earned 11 points in six games against LA. In other action, Martin Rozsíval got one goal and one assist for the New York Rangers against Pittsburgh, helping his team earn one point as the Rangers lost in overtime.
Two Czechs helped Phoenix defeat Colorado: Zbyněk Michálek assisted on Radim Vrbata’s goal, an empty-netter that sealed the game 3:1.
Partly clear to cloudy skies are expected in the coming days with up to 15 centimetres of fresh snow predicted over the weekend. Daytime temperatures should hover around 0 degrees Celsius.