Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has welcomed the news of the arrest of Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb suspected of war crimes who was detained on Thursday by the Serbian police after 16 years in hiding. Mr Schwarzenberg congratulated the Serbian police and security forces, and said that the Serbian government proved it acted in full accordance with the rule of law. The Czech foreign minister added he hoped the fugitive war crimes suspect’s arrest will “accelerate Serbia’s approximation” to the European Union.
The Czech Republic’s public finance deficit will this year drop to 4.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to an estimate by the Finance Ministry released on Thursday. Last year, the deficit was 4.7 percent, down from 5.9 percent in 2009. The Finance Ministry aims to reach balanced public finances by the year 2016. Earlier this month, an estimate by the Czech central bank put the 2011 public finance deficit at 4 percent of the Czech Republic’s GDP.
Coalition leaders were unable to reach agreement on details of the health care reform on Wednesday. After a six-hour session in the lower house, several key points still remained unresolved. Health Minister Leoš Heger said the coalition was able to agree on 12 of his 17 proposed changes. At the centre of the debate is the question which procedures will be covered by insurance and which will have to be paid for by patients themselves. While the Civic Democrats and the TOP 09 parties insist that what is standard care be defined by the Health Ministry, junior coalition member Public Affairs would like it to be determined by new legislation co-authored by health care experts.
Members of the Czech association of book sellers and publishers met with Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek on Thursday to discuss the government’s plan to raise VAT rates. However, they failed to convince him to keep the VAT rate on books and other publications at 10 percent. The government agreed on Wednesday to raise the lower VAT rate to 14 percent next year, and to introduce a single VAT rate of 17.5 percent by 2013. The head of the publishers’ association, Vladimír Pistorius, said this will destroy the business. The publishers are planning to stage a rally in Prague in June to protest against the government’s plans.
A court in Prague on Thursday adjourned hearing claims lodged against the embattled lottery firm Sazka. More than 2,000 claims against Sazka have been registered, amounting to over 41 billion crowns, or over 2.3 billion US dollars. However, Sazka bankruptcy trustee only recognized claims worth around 15 billion. After the court heard claims higher than 300,000 crowns, the session was adjourned until Friday. The Czech Finance Ministry suspended Sazka’s lottery licence earlier this month after the firm failed to pay the winnings. Sazka got into financial problems after it spent billions of crowns on constructing a multi-purpose arena in the capital.
Around 30,000 children, mostly Romanies, are living in socially excluded localities across the Czech Republic, the head of the government agency for social inclusion, Martin Šimáček, said on Thursday. These children are more likely to be segregated in “special schools” or end up in institutional care. The practice of placing Romany children in schools originally intended for children with disabilities has been criticized by the EU and other bodies. Experts also blame the Czech Education ministry for failing to provide support for children from these poverty-stricken areas.
Poor retired people with passive lifestyle form the largest single segment of the Czech population, according to new survey by the country’s association of marketing agencies released on Thursday. There are around one million of them in the country, or 13 percent of the population. Some 750,000 retired people enjoy active lifestyles and sufficient financial means, while another 700,000 Czechs fall into the category of people “waiting for retirement”. The survey divided the Czech population into ten categories according to their quality of life. It also found that some 10 percent of Czechs have sufficient financial resources; they tend to be more educated and live in bigger cities. Another 9 percent of the population fell into the category of “people without perspective” who are mostly unemployed and rely on state welfare.
Czech Culture Minister Jiří Besser on Thursday approved the demolition of a historic building in Prague Wenceslas Square. The building, located on the corner of Opletalova Steet, was built in 1880 and rebuilt several times in the 20th century. Although not a registered monument itself, it forms part of Prague’s historic centre, a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. The building will be replaced with a new structure with a parking lot, shops and offices that should open in 2016. The minister’s decision met with criticism from the Club for Ancient Prague as well as other experts and politicians. Deputy chair of the lower house and member of Prague 1 council, Kateřina Klasnová of the Public Affairs party warned the demolition would diminish the protection of Prague’s monuments.
The Czech Republic has won EU protection for Karlovy Vary spa wafers, the Czech news agency ČTK reported on Thursday. The European Commission reportedly granted the product the Protected Geographical Indication status which means only wafers made in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary will be able to use that name. The decision comes despite opposition from Germany and Austria where locally made wafers bear the same name.
Wafers in Karlovy Vary, also known by its German name Carlsbad, were first produced in mid-19th century. At that time, the town was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Germans whose descendants were forced to leave after WWII. However, Karlovy Vary continued producing its spa wafers even after the town was repopulated by Czechs.
Hotel rooms in the Czech Republic at the beginning of this year’s tourist season were cheaper than last year, according to a survey by the KMPG consultancy firm released on Thursday. The average April rate for a hotel room was 1144 crowns, or around 66 US dollars, some 110 crowns lower than last year. Hotel room occupancy grew by around 7 percent to 60.6 percent. In Prague, the average price for a hotel room in the first quarter of this year reached 973 crowns.
The Czech football association called on Thursday for new legislation that would make entering the field by fans a criminal act. The move comes after several dozen football fans charged the field after the Czech FA cup final game in Jihlava on Wednesday, the latest in a series of similar incidents. The association will work with experts to draft a bill inspired by similar legislation approved in the UK in the early 1990s. The head of the Czech football association, Ivan Hašek said he believed the proposal will find sufficient support among the country’s politicians.
Czech tennis player Petra Kvitová advanced on Thursday to the third round at the French Open after beating China’s Jie Zheng 6:4, 6:1. In the first set, ninth seed Kvitová converted two out of five breakpoints while in the second, the Czech won six consecutive games to wrap up the game in one hour and 16 minutes. In the third round of the French Open, Petra Kvitová will face the winner of Vania King from the US versus UK’s Elena Baltacha.
Meteorologists have warned against storms that are expected to hit the Czech Republic on Thursday and Friday. Daytime highs will range between 18 and 23 degrees Celsius.