Czech President Václav Klaus delivered his New Year’s address on Saturday in which he backed the reform agenda of the country’s centre-right coalition government. The Czech Republic, just like other EU countries and the US, was living beyond its means, Mr Klaus said, noting that the government’s austerity measures that will take effect in 2011 do not themselves guarantee that similar steps will not have to be taken again in the future. The Czech president also said that if government reforms are implemented quickly, rationally and with courage, the public will understand and support them.
In his traditional televised address, Mr Klaus also criticized organized campaigns leading to mass departures of professionals, although he did not explicitly mention Czech physicians who are threatening to leave the country in a bid to get higher salaries.
In related news, Czech party leaders reacted on Saturday to President Klaus’ New Year’s address. Prime Minister and head of the Civic Democrats Petr Nečas said the address was “balanced and statesmanlike”, and appreciated president’s support of the government’s reform plans. Deputy chair of the coalition TOP 09 party, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said the speech deserved a “standing ovation”. Opposition Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka said the speech only emphasized Mr Klaus’s uncritical and unquestioning stance on the reform agenda. The president is reacting to the fact that the government lacks a strong leader, and is himself taking over the role of the prime minister, Mr Soobotka added. For his part, Communist leader Vojtěch Filip said he considered this year’s address the weakest since Václav Klaus assumed the post at Prague Castle.
Nine people died in fires and accidents in the Czech Republic on New Year’s Eve. Two people, and a dog, died in a fire that broke out in the community of Drahanovice, near Olomouc in the east of the country, on Saturday. In the city of Brno, a young man fell out of his fourth-floor apartment on New Year’s Eve and died in hospital, while fire-fighters in a village just south of the south Moravian city found a 77-year-old man dead in his house that had caught fire. A young man was killed in a road crash at 2:30 AM on New Year’s Day, also in southern Moravia, while a young woman died in a restaurant in the Vysočina region, probably after having drunk too much alcohol. Another two people died in a car accident on Friday afternoon in eastern Bohemia, and 47-year-old climber fell off a rock in the Český ráj area in the north of the country.
Several people around the country were also severely injured by fireworks; in Prague, 171 people were taken to hospital with various injuries; emergency workers said the number was some 20 percent higher than last year.
The road toll collected last year on Czech motorways fetched a record 6.6 billion crowns, or more than 353 million US dollars, which was some 18 percent more than the previous year, a spokesman for the toll system said on Saturday. The electronic toll system was introduced four years ago, and has so far yielded nearly 24 billion crowns. The head of the company Kapsch, which runs the system, said recovering Czech and European economy was behind the record proceeds. In 2011, the toll on Czech roads increases by one fourth, with trucks in average paying five crowns per kilometre. The Czech transport minister, Vít Bárta, said he was considering extending toll to lower-class roads as well.
Lat year, 749 people died in accidents on Czech roads, which was the lowest number of road deaths since 1990. Compared to the previous year, there were 83 fewer people killed in road crashes in 2010. However, the Czech Transportation Ministry failed to meet its goal of getting the number of people killed in traffic accidents below 650. The safest months of last year were January, February, March and December. On the contrary, July was the worst month with 102 victims.
The first baby of the year 2011, a boy named Matyáš, was born just 43 seconds after midnight in the northern city of Liberec. Another boy, Jakub, was born eight minutes after the start of the New Year, in Kolín, central Bohemia, and yet another baby-boy, Vojtěch, was born just one minute later in Prague. The first girl born in the New Year was Tereza, who was delivered in the north Bohemian town of Kraslice. The ČTK news agency noted that given the cabinet’s austerity measures, the mother of the first baby born in 2011 is no longer entitled to a birth grant, as Matyáš is her fourth child.
Air pollution in the Ostrava region, in the north-east of the country, slightly improved on Saturday, with four of 16 monitoring stations registering values below permitted levels. However, the quality of air remains poor in and around the city of Ostrava. Meteorologists expect the situation will keep improving in the coming days.
Thieves stole watches worth 20 million crowns, or just over one million US dollars, from a shopping mall in Prague during New Year’s Eve. The burglary happened few minutes after midnight when the thieves broke into the shop. However, the police still don’t know how they got inside the shopping mall. The burglars were caught on a security camera system which is now being reviewed by investigators. The value of the stolen watches was stated by the shop’s owner, a police spokeswoman said, adding that the final amount could be lower.
The Czech national hockey team lost 3:8 to Russia at the World U20 Championships held in Buffalo, N.Y., in the United States on Friday. Once again, the Czechs took an early lead when forward Jakub Orsava hit the net in the second minute. But the Russians equalized just one minute later and won the first period 1:4. The Czechs than added just two more goals, while their opponents scored four times in the rest of the game, setting the final score at 3:8. The Czechs, who needed a straight win to advance to the tournament’s play-off round, will now play to secure a spot in the elite division.
Czech cross-country skier Lukáš Bauer finished 13th in 15 km classic pursuit in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Saturday, the second event of Tour de Ski. Bauer, who is defending last year’s title, ranks 13th in the overall standing. The Czech skier told Czech radio he had problems with his skis; he said he was happy with his performance but not with the result of the race. Tour de Ski continues in Obertsdorf on Sunday before moving on to Italy.
The first weekend of the new year will see overcast skies, with snow and sleet in places. Daytime highs should range between -2 and +2 degrees Celsius.