The Czech government approved a package of tax reforms at its session on Wednesday in spite of tension in the coalition and the absence of five ministers for TOP 09. The tax reform should abolish the so-called “super-gross salary”, levy a new 20 percent tax on gambling and remove tax breaks on some employees’ benefits such as lunch vouchers. The package was approved despite the conspicuous absence of Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, whose party TOP 09 is boycotting all government sessions over an ongoing scandal surrounding a high-placed public sector employee. Ladislav Bátora, the controversial head of Human Resources at the Education Ministry recently insulted TOP 09 head, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, and is considered unsuitable for the post due to his past ties to the extremist National Party. TOP 09 is demanding his immediate dismissal and its ministers refuse to attend cabinet sessions until this is done. Education Minister Josef Dobeš of Public Affairs has refused to comply with the demand, though he apologized to the foreign minister on behalf of his employee.
Visibly angered, Prime Minister Petr Nečas later slammed TOP 09 for its absence at Wednesday’s government session. The prime minister said the boycott of cabinet sessions was “irresponsible and inexcusable”, especially over a conflict regarding a public sector employee. Mr. Nečas said the government must remain functional and pointed out that people did not fail to come to work because they did not approve of a colleague. The prime minister said that this was not the end of the matter, and that he would deal with the absentees in person. The prime minister’s Civic Democrats have accused TOP 09 of using the Bátora controversy as a pretext to destabilize or even bring down the coalition government.
The Czech ambassador to Albania, Marie Fialkova, has died at the age of 55. The news was confirmed by Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar on Wednesday who said the ambassador had died unexpectedly at her residence and the cause of death was as yet unknown. He said she had complained about feeling poorly several days prior to her death. Marie Fialkova has served as Czech ambassador to Albania since 2007, having previously served as the country’s ambassador to Poland. After the revolution the former dissident worked as a close aide to then president Vaclav Havel.
Standard & Poor’s has raised its evaluation of the Czech Republic for long-term foreign currency obligations two levels from A to AA-. At the same time the agency raised its rating of the Czech state’s long-term obligations in the domestic currency, the crown, by one level from A+ to AA-. The news of the raise in ratings had an immediate impact on the financial markets with the Prague Stock Exchange’s PX Index rising sharply following the announcement and the crown strengthening.
Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, Czech ambassador to the United States Petr Gandalovič and senators Štětina and Grulich will represent the Czech Republic at the funeral of anti-communist resistance fighter Ctirad Mašín in the United States on Wednesday. Mr. Mašín is to be buried with military honours and the Czech defence minister is to confer the Golden Linden military distinction upon him in memoriam. The decoration and the presence of Czech officials at the funeral has divided the nation since many consider the actions of the Mašín brothers, who killed six police officers, some of who were subdued and unarmed, in their daring escape from communist Czechoslovakia, highly unethical. According to the results of a poll commissioned by Czech Public Television only 15 percent of Czechs consider them heroes. Ctirad Mašín died after a prolonged illness at the age of 81.
A minor earthquake measuring 2,5 points on the Richter scale was registered in the western part of the Czech Republic on Wednesday morning. People in the vicinity of Kraslice and Nový Kostel, near the Czech German border say the quake occurred at around 9.30 am and lasted for several seconds. No damages or injuries were reported. Experts say that more small tremors may follow. Small quakes are not unusual in the area. The last, measuring 3.3 points on the Richter sale was registered in 2008.
Tuesday’s train collision at the Praha-Liben railway station is being ascribed to human error. The police said on Wednesday that it had been confirmed without a doubt that the driver of the locomotive had ignored a red light. Seven people were injured in the accident in which a locomotive crashed into a passenger train drawing into the station. It is not yet clear why the driver ignored the warning light signal. The material damage has been estimated at 13 million crowns.
Overall confidence in the Czech economy dropped by 1.3 points in August as compared to the previous month, according to data published by the Czech Statistical Office. Confidence of entrepreneurs is down by a single point while that of consumers dropped by 2.7 points. Overall confidence in the industry decreased by 1.7 points month-on-month.
Over a half of Czechs would like President Václav Klaus to remain active in politics when his term in office expires in March of 2013. According to the results of a poll conducted by the Millward Brown agency 55 percent of respondents would like for Mr. Klaus to remain visible in Czech politics, 28 percent of respondents would like to see him run in direct presidential elections. Fifteen percent of respondents would like to see him return to the Civic Democratic Party which he founded in 1991. Mr. Klaus has indicated that he does not plan to withdraw from public life when his term in office expires.
Prague’s Žižkov district will name one of its streets after Olga Havlová, the deceased first wife of ex-president Vaclav Havel. The former first lady was extremely popular with the public and often proclaimed herself to be a Žižkov patriot, the district where she was born and grew up. Olga Havlová died of cancer in 1996.
The coming days are expected to be hot and sunny with day temperatures around 35 degrees Celsius. Meteorologists have warned of possible heat storms.