Prague City Hall has cancelled the traditional New Year’s fireworks. The decision was made by the previous city administration headed by Civic Democrat Pavel Bém as part of the city’s cost-cutting measures. The current mayor, Bohuslav Svoboda, said there wasn’t enough time for the new city hall to prepare the fireworks after they assumed their post after November’s local elections, as fireworks require a series of permissions from other state institutions. Last year, the 15-minute fireworks that attracted thousands of viewers, cost around one million crowns, or some 53,000 US dollars.
The “Face of Normalization”, legendary 1970s and 80s TV announcer Miloš Frýba, died on Thursday at the age of 65. He became Czechoslovak Television’s first male programme announcer a few years after he joined the state broadcaster in 1968. His calm and serious composure and his deep voice became one of the symbols of the era following the Soviet occupation of the country, known as normalization. After the fall of communism, Miloš Frýba stayed with Czech TV until his retirement two years ago.
The Czech Finance Ministry will sue members of the country’s government that in 2000 oversaw a takeover of the collapsing IPB bank by another bank, ČSOB, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek told reporters on Thursday. Mr Kalousek said that in 2000, the cabinet concluded a deal with the ČSOB bank that damaged the Czech Republic and eventually meant that the country lost on Wednesday a 33.3 billion crown, or 1.73 billion US dollars, claim against ČSOB. The Czech finance minister said a lawsuit would be filed against all but one of the ministers in the cabinet headed by Miloš Zeman along with the then head of the Czech central bank, Josef Tošovský, and the former trustee in bankruptcy of the IPB bank, Petr Staněk.
An arbitration tribunal in Paris rejected on Wednesday a 33.3 billion crown claim by the Czech state against ČSOB related to state guarantees provided during the 2000 takeover of the IPB bank. The tribunal also granted ČSOB a 1.6 billion crown award against the state, plus interest.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday took the rare step of by-passing Congress to push through the temporary appointment of Norman Eisen to the post of US ambassador to Prague. The president was able to make the appointment for a 12 month period due to the fact that the US Congress is now in recess. Norman Eisen had worked as an assistant to the president on ethics and government reform since the beginning of his term in January of 2009. His nomination to the post of US ambassador to Prague was blocked by Republican Senator Charles Grassley in September. The post of US ambassador to Prague has been unoccupied since the departure of Richard Graber in January 2009. Analysts say the long vacancy was damaging Czech-US relations.
In related news, the Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, welcomed on Thursday the appointment Norman Eisen as the new US ambassador to the Czech Republic. Mr Schwarzenberg said it was something to be grateful for although the news was tainted by the fact the appointment was only temporary. Mr Schwarzenberg said it was strange that the post had not been filled for nearly two years but said he would now reciprocally consider appointing a new Czech ambassador to Washington. Deputy head of the lower house’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Jan Hamáček, said on Thursday the situation was an unnecessary complication to Czech-American relations.
The Czech Finance Ministry is considering privatizing several state-owned firms to pay for the planned pension reform, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Thursday. By mid 2011, the Finance Ministry would complete a review of state property suitable for privatization, the proceeds of which could pay for the planned pension reform. The paper said that Czech Post, the Budweiser Budvar brewery and the giant forestry company Lesy ČR were among those considered for privatization. Deputy finance minister Zdeněk Zajíček told the daily the privatization of these firms, along with several state-run research institutes could fetch “hundreds of billions” of crowns.
Researchers from Brno’s Masaryk Universitry set out on Thursday on a two-month expedition to the Johann Gregor Mendel Polar Station on Antarctia’s James Ross Island. A university spokeswoman said the 11-member team included climatologists, geologists and ornithologists. The experts are bringing new equipment to the station which should allow for international scientists to take part in future research there. The expedition should reach its destination by January 5. The university-run station opened in 2006 and was named after the Moravian botanist Johann Gregor Mendel.
The Czech Health Minister, Leoš Heger, is planning to pump some five billion crowns from some of the country’s smaller health insurance companies, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Thursday. The daily said these firms have a surplus of around ten billion crowns; Mr Heger told the newspaper that half of those funds could be used to patch the heath care system. The plan has met with opposition from the concerned health insurance companies whereas doctors’ trade unions said it was a good idea, albeit one that would take too long. The Czech Republic is facing mass departures of doctors; nearly one in four physicians in the country’s hospitals has filed their resignation in protest over low salaries.
A Czech truck driver, who was arrested in Turkey on December 24 in a dodged international police operation, might lose his job, the Czech news agency ČTK reported on Thursday. The man, who works for a Czech transport company, was hired to deliver to Istanbul a load of chemicals that are used in drugs processing. The delivery was part of an international anti-drug operation run by the Slovak police; however, the authorities failed to inform the Czech truck driver or his company, and the unsuspecting driver was arrested by Turkish police and banned from entering Turkey for a year. But his company only delivers goods to or through Turkey, which means the driver will probably have to look for a new job.
Slovak press on Thursday blamed the country’s police for using the Czech driver in an international anti-narcotics operation without sharing the details with Czech police. The owner of the Czech transport firm said he would ask Slovak authorities for an explanation and damages.
Emergency workers in Prague treated 90 people for hypothermia in December, which was more than twice the number of cases registered in the same month last year, according to a statement by the city’s emergency medical service released on Thursday. Fifteen people died of hypothermia in December, which was three times as many as last December. Emergency workers said that freezing temperatures, wet snow and alcohol was extremely dangerous for people on the street who most often fall victim to these conditions.
Czech police arrested on Wednesday a 43-year-old driver whose aggressive and dangerous driving caused an accident on the D1 motorway. The man at least twice passed slower vehicles on the right, then lined up ahead of them and slowed down, forcing them to pull over. One of the drivers did not manage to stop in time and crashed. The police accused the dangerous driver of attempted bodily harm; he is facing 12 years in jail.
Sparta Prague lost to Team Canada 4:3 in overtime at the Sprengler Cup in Switzerland on Wednesday and was eliminated from the tournament. Canada was leading 2:0 and 3:1 in the game but Sparta’s David Výborný equalized in the 37th minute. The game then went to overtime where Sparta was penalized for too many players on the ice, and it only took the Canadians two minutes to score the winning goal. Team Canada advanced to the cup’s semi-finals while Sparta, which had also lost to St Petersburg and Geneva, was sent home.
The Czech national hockey team lost 3:6 to Sweden at the U20 World Championships in Buffalo, NY, in the United States on Thursday. The Czechs had a great start, and pulled ahead 1:0 in a power-play in the fourth minute. But the Swedes, who are considered one of the candidates for the gold, equalized just two minutes later and eventually won the first period 3:1. The Swedish team then built up a lead of 5:1 before 17-year-old Czech forward Michal Frk put in two goals, setting the score at 5:3 at the end of the second period. The Czechs however conceded one more goal in the final period, and will have to beat Russia to advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals.
The extreme cold should let up on New Year’s Eve, with temperatures ranging between -4 and zero. The skies will be overcast overt the weekend, with snow and sleet in places.