Prague 6 mayor and Civic Democrat member of the lower house of parliament Tomáš Chalupa has been named the new environment minister by Prime Minister Petr Nečas. He replaces Pavel Drobil who stood down in mid-December following a corruption scandal at the ministry’s environment fund. The prime minister said Mr. Chalupa would bring a non-ideological perspective to the ministry. The new minister started working as a journalist, later becoming spokesman for President Václav Klaus and becoming Prague 6 mayor in the footsteps of former Prague mayor Pavel Bém. The appointment should be approved by the president next week.
The number of jobless Czechs seeking work climbed by 1.0 percent point in December to reach at 9.6 percent. December’s total rose by almost 55,000 to stand at almost 562,000. The number of vacancies fell by 4.7 percent compared with November to total just under 31,000. That means there are on average 18 jobless people for every vacancy. Analysts said many unemployment claims were submitted in a rush during December to avoid tougher conditions for claims at the beginning of the new year. At the start of January 2009, the Czech unemployment rate was 9.2 percent.
The pace of annual Czech inflation speeded up in December to 2.3 percent from November’s 2.0 percent according to the Czech Statistical Office on Monday. Month on month, consumer prices climbed by 0.5 percent, the second highest monthly rise of 2010. Average annual inflation throughout the year came in at 1.5 percent. The Czech National Bank has a target for annual net inflation of 2.0 percent.
Leaders of the Belarus opposition to President Alexandr Lukashenko’s regime called in Prague on Monday for the European Union to push for the release of political prisoners. Failure to do that should spark the reintroduction of sanctions, they said. Opposition to Alexandr Lukashenko’s regime has hardened following a contested presidential election in December after which the outgoing president claimed 80 percent of support. Former Belarus president and current member of the opposition Stanislav Shushkevich said in Prague that the EU should take a firmer line. He said that trying to teach a wolf how to be a vegetarian did not work. The EU has taken the first steps to reimpose visa restrictions on Lukashenko and his close aides.
River levels in the Czech Republic started to ease on Monday after rising to the highest flood warning level three over the weekend as snow started to thaw. Level two flood threats applied at around five points in the worst affected region, western Bohemia, on Monday morning. In the northern part of the country around Liberec, river levels have already returned to near normal. The danger of avalanches in the Krkonos mountains was also cut from two to one on the five level scale but the level two warning has been maintained for the Jeseníky mountains.
Preliminary results of checks by food inspectors have found no local evidence of dioxin contaminated foodstuffs. The special checks were called after a scandal over contamination of foodstuffs by the cancer causing substance in neighbouring Germany. Local checks were targeted at pork, poultry and eggs. German authorities say there is a risk that some contaminated food made its way to the Netherlands and Britain. Slovakia has banned all German imports of meat and eggs.
Police from an anti-corruption squad have called for charges to be pressed against two men in connection with the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championship hosted by the northern city of Liberec. According to Czech Television, one of the men is a former rector of the city’s technical university, the second is the owner and manager of a private company. The police investigation is focused on suspicions that a multi-million crown contract was fixed to order by eliminating possible competitors. The state last week said it would not pay off outstanding debts from the championship telling creditors that they should take legal action to get their money.
The Czech Republic’s state debt climbed by around 166 billion crowns to stand at 1,344 billion crowns overall, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. That translates into around 128,000 crowns in debt for every Czech. Interest payments to service the accumulated Czech debt last year amounted to around 35.6 billion crowns, undershooting original expectations that these would amount to more than 56 billion. The total debt has risen around nine fold compared with its original level in 1993.
Transport Minister Vít Bárta has said he will file a criminal complaint against the management of the Road & Motorway Directorate for the region of Ústí, north Bohemia. He stated his position while speaking on a Sunday TV debate programme, saying that ministry audits had revealed that regional managers had tried to cover up illegal activities by construction firms. The minister pointed out that the Ústí region is the area of operation by influential businessmen Patrik Oulický and Petr Benda, often cited as major behind-the-scenes players within the country’s two largest political parties, the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats). Mr Benda said the allegation that he had control over the Road & Motorway Directorate branch was “nonsense”.
Martina Sáblíková has been crowned the women’s European Speed Skating Champion for 2011, winning two of four events at the championship at Collalbo, Italy at the weekend. The phenomenal Czech racer – who won two gold medals the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last year, dominated in the Ladies’ 3,000 and 5,000 metres. Both times beating Ireen Wust of the Netherlands – in the later race by more than 10 seconds. Sáblíková won the European Championship for the second time in a row and for the third time in her career.
New snowfall is expected at the beginning of the week, with a chance of rain in places. Daytime temperatures should reach highs of eight degrees Celsius by Thursday.