Czech President Václav Klaus on Wednesday distanced himself from comments that his deputy chief of staff, Petr Hájek, made on Monday, questioning the death of Osama bin Laden. He labeled Mr. Hájek’s comments regarding the terrorist network leader’s killing unfortunate and made it clear that what his deputy chief of staff said did not represent his own views on the topic. In a statement that appeared on his website on Tuesday, Mr. Klaus wrote that he received the news of Osama bin Laden’s death with great relief and added that he believes Osama’s death will increase security, and calm the situation world-wide.
Ahead of an upcoming decision over the distribution of seats in the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Czech Republic is lobbying its partners abroad to support the country in its effort to gain a seat in the council. The vote on the distribution of new seats is to take place May 20. Around a hundred countries have pledged their support for the Czech Republic. Georgia and Rumania are also trying to secure a seat. At least 127 of the council’s 192 votes are needed for the Czech Republic to become a member. In 2007, the Czech Republic unsuccessfully campaigned to be voted into the United Nations Security Council.
The lower house approved planned cuts to social services on Wednesday. The cuts could amount to state budget savings of up to 23.5 billion Czech crowns. The cost-cutting measures had been approved by the lower house once before, after the governing coalition declared a state of legislative emergency to push through the changes. The Constitutional Court declared this procedure unconstitutional. The cuts concern a number of benefits for parents, which are to be cut or to be paid out only to those with the lowest income.
The lower house of Parliament on Tuesday approved a proposal for a change in health care legislation, one of three that make up a planned reform of the country’s health care system. Under the new law, patients’ fees for hospitalization would be raised from 60 to 100 Czech crowns per day. The opposition Social Democrats have spoken out against the change in legislation and have announced that they will file a complaint with the Constitutional Court should the proposal be approved by the lower house’s health care committee, the next step in passing the new law.
Prague’s archbishop Dominik Duka met with representatives from junior government coalition member Public Affairs to discuss the restitution of church property. A spokesman for the Prague archbishopric said on Wednesday that the meeting was informal and no definitive proposals had been made. The meeting between the archbishop and the two Public Affairs members, who both serve in the government committee dealing with matters between church and state, comes ahead of a meeting of the committee to take place Thursday. According to Culture Minister Jiří Besser, an agreement on the form that the restitution of church property should take should be finalized by the end of May. The restitution of church property seized by the communists has been a controversial issue in Czech politics for years.
According to the newly published Migration Integration Index MIPEX, foreigners living in the Czech Republic are less integrated into mainstream society than in most other industrialized nations. The Czech Republic came nineteenth in the overall index, which maps the integration of foreigners in 31 countries. In terms of immigrants’ involvement in politics, the Czech Republic came in second to last. Sweden and Portugal came in first and second, respectively. The survey, which is made up of seven factors influencing integration, such as employment opportunities, education, chances to obtain citizenship etc., is published by the British Council and the NGO Migration Policy Group.
In related news, a recent poll by the STEM agency has found that three quarters of respondents believe that too many foreigners work in the Czech Republic; another 70 percent believe that foreigners take vacancies that should be filled by Czechs. Nearly half of the 1286 respondents said that in some areas, the country does not have enough qualified domestic staff and therefore has to hire foreigners. Two fifths said they are decidedly opposed to foreigners working in the country, while only nine percent said that there are not too many immigrants employed in the Czech Republic. According to the authors of the study, the negative sentiment towards foreigners may be attributed to the fact that in recent years, the levels of education and the social status of immigrants to the Czech Republic have been on the decline.
Libor Michálek, the former head of the State Environmental Fund who was sacked for reporting corruption practices within the institution, may join Deputy Prime Minister Radek John´s new anti-corruption team, the news site Aktualně.cz reported on Wednesday. The news site quotes Jan Kubáček, head of Radek John´s team of advisers, as saying that Libor Michálek had expressed preliminary agreement with the idea. The deputy prime minister is reportedly eager to welcome Mr. Michálek on board not just because of his personal honesty and courage but because he is an experienced civil servant who is well acquainted with the workings of public administration.
Prague police have arrested a group of fifteen Czechs and foreigners who are suspected of running a marijuana growing operation, a spokesperson for the police said Wednesday. The suspects come from Vietnam, Canada, and Eastern Europe. Police confiscated over 3000 marijuana plants, five cars and over a million crowns in cash in house searches; they also closed down ten high-capacity indoor growing facilities, as well as two storage facilities for growing equipment. Some of the suspects sold such equipment online as well as in shops across Prague. They could face prison sentences of up to 18 years.
On Tuesday, a regional court in Hradec Králové handed a ten-year prison sentence to a man charged with the rape of a 21-year-old woman. He was also charged with four other offenses: theft, disorderly conduct and aggravated threatening.
The incident took place in the town of Novy Bydžov, in the Hradec Králové region, in 2010. It led to a highly publicized escalation of events in the town. After a petition demanding better security was signed by some 3257 residents, the town’s mayor issued a declaration that the Romany population was responsible for the lack of security in Novy Bydžov. The mayor also ordered a higher police presence and hired a security agency to monitor the town’s streets. The situation escalated in March, when the National Party of Social Justice held a march in the town; some 13 far-right extremists were arrested. The mayor of Novy Bydžov said on Wednesday that the security in the town has improved.
A 41-year-old Czech man was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison for a nasty road accident he caused last year. The man thought another car on the D1 motorway outside Prague was going too slowly. When he was passing it, he drove into the other car and pushed it off the road. The slower car ended in summersaults on the side of the motorway; rescue workers said it was a miracle that neither of the two passengers in the car suffered serious injuries. The dangerous driver later apologized, and claimed he had no intention of hurting anyone. The court also banned the man from driving over a period of seven years.
The current spell of cold and rainy weather will continue until the end of the week, with overcast skies, rain showers and daytime highs of around 13 degrees Celsius