The archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, has been forced to return early to the Czech Republic from Haiti. The bishop was on what was scheduled to be a week long tour of humanitarian work being carried out by the Czech branch of the Caritas organization. The visit was cut short following the abduction of two charity workers with their kidnappers demanding a ransom of 100,000 dollars for the two women. Tension has built in the country struck by a devastating earthquake a year ago and more recently hit by a cholera outbreak with the outcome of the first round of a presidential election being contested. The Czech branch of Caritas has around 13 humanitarian workers in Haiti.
The Social Democrat leader of the South Moravian region Michal Hašek has strengthened his bid to become the leader of the party after party meetings in four regions on Saturday. Mr. Hašek won support from two of the regions, Zlín and Ústí with Moravia and Silesia refusing to make and recommendation and Plzeň backing both himself and his main rival Bohuslav Sobotka. Delegates from the regions will vote for a new leader at a meeting in Brno in March. Former party leader and prime minister Jiří Paroubek stepped down after elections to the lower house of parliament at the end of May when results fell well short of expectations and the party was not able to take the lead in forming a coalition.
Authorities in the northern town of Litoměřice are to launch talks to map out plans to convert a WWII Nazi underground factory into a museum and remembrance site, according to the news server IDnes. Around 30 kilometres of corridors and production halls were built by the Nazis on the outskirts of the town towards the end of WWII as Allied bombardments intensified. Parts for tanks and aircraft were produced at the Czech underground factory, Richard, where around 4,500 prisoners died during forced labour. The project to restore at least part of the site has the backing of the local council but it estimates costs will run into millions of crowns.
Water levels are continuing to retreat from danger levels across the Czech Republic on Sunday. The highest, level three, flood warnings were in force at eight points on Sunday afternoon compared with 14 the day before. The most threatened areas remain in the western Plzeň region and along stretches of the Elbe including at Mělnik, Ústí nad Labem and Děčíň. The situation at an overflowing reservoir around 20 kilometres west of Plzeň started to ease on Saturday night with water levels receding. There had been fears that more water would have to be released from the dam creating a serious surge downstream.
A 36 year old man died after his boat capsized on a weir on the river Bystřice near Olomouc, police said on Sunday. Firemen and emergency services were able to rescue his fellow canoeist. Police are investigating the incident.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said on Sunday that discussions about whether a Secretary of State for European Affairs would be based in the government office and outside the foreign ministry were still continuing. The thorny issue has opened a rift between the foreign minister and Prime Minister Petr Nečas for the past six months. The Foreign Ministry opposes what it sees as a rival centre for Czech foreign relations. The prime minister argues that government policy could be better coordinated there. Mr. Schwarzenberg added in an interview on Czech public television that some foreign embassies might be reopened if more cash were forthcoming. He pointed out that the real income of the Foreign Ministry had dropped by a third over the past decade.
Separately, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described former Civic Democrat minister Petr Gandalovič as a hot candidate to become the Czech ambassador to the United States. The foreign minister said he expected the government to agree on a nomination that would be presented to the president in the coming days. The Czech Republic has been without an ambassador to the US for around six months. New US ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen is expected to start in the post by the end of January. This follows a two year gap in filling the vacancy. Mr. Gandalovič is a former minister for regional affairs and minister of agriculture and mayor of the northern city of Ústí. He was Czech consul general in New York between 1997 and 2002.
The government is poised to back higher pay for nursing sisters, midwives and other health staff who are not qualified doctors. A proposal aimed in this direction has been supported by the Ministry of Health with government backing recommended for the step. Nursing sisters would be allowed under the measure to carry out specialised procedures with health insurance payments covering them. Registration of the country’s around 45,000 nursing sisters would also be extended automatically with payments for extensions being cut. The six existing categories for ambulance staff would be cut to one but their job description clarified.
Czechs gathered at Prague’s Olšaný cemetery on Saturday to pay tribute to student Jan Palach who set fire to himself in protest at the Soviet-led occupation of 1968 and reversal of the reforms that sparked it. Jan Palach made his protest on January 16, 1969, and died of his injuries three days later. His funeral in Prague a week later was a mass demonstration against the invasion and the ‘normalisation’ that followed. Palach’s remains were taken from the Prague cemetery in 1973 by authorities and moved to his home village outside Mělnik, north of Prague. They were returned to Prague in 1990 after the fall of the Communist regime.
Norway won both the men's and women's team sprints in the cross-country World Cup in Liberec, Czech Republic, on Sunday. Men's duo Johan Kjoelstad and Ola Vigen Hattestad clocked 21 minutes 47.1 seconds in the 6x1.6km classic-style race to beat the Swedes Jesper Modin and Mats Larsson by 4.4 seconds. Maiken Falla and Marit Bjoerrgen won the women's 6x1.3km race in 19:30.8, 30.5 seconds ahead of Italians Magda Genuin and Marianna Longa.
On Saturday, the cross country men’s and women’s freestyle sprint events were won by Norwegian Ola Vigen Hattestad and US skier Kikkan Randall. Czech Dušan Kožíšek took third place in the men’s race.
Czech ski jumper Jan Matura has pulled off the best result of his career in a major competition with a fourth place at the world cup event at Sapporo, Japan, on Sunday. The second world cup event of the season was won by Austrian Andreas Kofler. The 30 year old Czech had previously put in some of his best performances in Japan.
Showers will give way to brighter weather on Sunday and Monday. Daytime highs should range between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius.