The Civic Democratic Party leadership has thrown its weight behind the embattled defense minister Alexander Vondra, who is under fire over his role in a questionable deal relating to the country’s EU presidency when he was in charge of the EU portfolio. According to the internet daily Lidovky.cz Prime Minister Petr Necas himself stood up in Mr. Vondra’s defense, swinging the balance in his favour and securing support for his continued presence in the cabinet.
Although Mr. Vondra claims he did not know about the dubious terms of the contract which allegedly cost taxpayers millions of crowns, he has come under a barrage of criticism over the scandal with the two smaller parties in government TOP 09 and Public Affairs calling for his resignation and distancing themselves from what they call the Civic Democrats' shame.
A flash poll testing Mr. Vondra’s credibility with the public indicates that the majority of Czechs would welcome his resignation from office. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they no longer considered Mr. Vondra trustworthy and that he should either leave of his own accord or be removed by the prime minister. Even those who are not wholly convinced of Mr. Vondra’s guilt argue that he should not be allowed to remain in office given the damage the scandal has done to the Civic Democrats' image. Only 11 percent of respondents said that until proven guilty Mr. Vondra is innocent and should be allowed to continue in office.
Deputy Finance Minister Martin Barták has resigned from office. A spokesman for the Finance Ministry said on Monday that Mr. Barták had handed in his notice and his resignation was accepted by Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek. Mr. Barták had been on unpaid leave since November of last year pending the outcome of a police investigation into allegations that while in the post of deputy defence minister he had solicited a bribe. He has denied the allegations but said the pressure on him and his family had become insufferable. He criticized the fact that the investigation had dragged for five months without any significant progress made.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus slammed the European Union's new "Euro Pact" on Monday, saying it aimed to further undermine the sovereignty of the bloc's member states. The president, known for his hardline eurosceptic stance, said in an article published in the daily Pravo, that member states should dare to say once and for all that they don’t want European monetary union.
The Euro Pact, adopted by the eurozone's 17 members should strengthen rescue funds in return for greater budgetary discipline and policy convergence. The pact was open to all EU members, but the Czech Republic and fellow non-eurozone nations Britain, Hungary and Sweden chose not to endorse it. One of the arguments was that the pact could lead to tax harmonization.
The Czech newspaper Lidové noviny has reported that Transport Minister Vít Bárta, one of the founding members of the Public Affairs party, will challenge current leader Radek John for the party leadership. The news was confirmed by party deputy leader, and wife of Vít Bárta, Kateřina Klasnová. The news comes as no surprise in view of widespread speculation that Mr. Barta has held the party reigns from the start, rather than its current chairman Radek John - a former investigative journalist and well-known TV personality – who helped bring the party to national attention in the last general elections.
The new Public Affairs chairperson will be elected via the internet by party members between May 8 and 22. Others reportedly considering running for the post of party leader include another high-standing member Karolina Peake. Public Affairs is a junior member in the ruling coalition.
Fugitive Czech businessman Roman Vaškůj, who was sentenced to 7,5 years in absentia for extensive tax fraud, was on Monday extradited to the Czech Republic from neighbouring Austria where he was arrested last June on an Interpol warrant. The hand-over at the Mikulov-Drasenhofen crossing took place amidst high security and the prisoner was transported to an unspecified destination. Having already spent two years in detention Vaškůj has five more years serve. The controversial businessman was also involved in a corruption scandal related to the former Czech deputy prime minister Jiří Čunek.
Czech flag-carrier ČSA has ended a codesharing contract with Air France as it shakes up its operations. A spokeswoman for the airline said that due to ongoing restructuring, ČSA had reassessed several of its commercial contracts as it prepares its summer flights schedule. In specific cases, including the routes between Prague and Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille, ČSA will operate flights using its own planes only. However the spokeswoman made it clear that the state-controlled Czech carrier was not slamming the door of the SkyTeam airline alliance, in which Air France is a key player.
Work is underway to enforce a stretch of the 16th century city walls in Hradec Králové, in eastern Bohemia, a part of which unexpectedly collapsed on Saturday. Miraculously no one was hurt in the accident but it is being investigated on suspicion of negligence on the part of the local authorities. The mayor says there were no prior signs of structural damage, however, the city last year started a major reconstruction of the walls due to their poor state. Three cars were damaged when a 12-metre stretch of the wall crumbled and experts have warned against removing the debris for fear of triggering another slide.
This year’s Earth Day –on April 22 -will be devoted to earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters, the Czech Academy of Sciences announced on Monday. The Academy which annually organizes seminars, workshops for children and public debates on Earth Day, said this year’s topics had been selected due to an enormous wave of interest in these phenomena on the part of the general public following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Defending champions Eaton Pardubice lost 3:2 to Vítkovice in penalty shootouts on Sunday, and were knocked out of the hockey league playoffs’ semifinals. The hosts Vítkovice was leading 2:0 until the third period when Padubice equalized with two goals just one minute apart. The match went into overtime but no team scored; in the shootout, Vítkovice’s Jiří Burger was the only player to convert his penalty, ensuring his team’s 4:1 win in the whole best-of-seven series. In the other semifinal, Slavia Prague is leading 3:1 over regular season winners, Třinec.
The coming days should be warm and sunny with day temperatures reaching 15 degrees Celsius.