An aircraft carrying the Russian ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has crashed, killing at least 36 people, among them three star Czech hockey players: Karel Rachůnek, Josef Vašíček a Jan Marek. The Yak-42 passenger plane went down near the city of Yaroslavl in north-eastern Russia on its way to a match in Belarus, the first of the season. One person on board is reported to have survived. The Russian news agency Interfax has cited officials as saying that the plane was having difficulty gaining altitude and hit a runway antenna, after which it crashed and caught fire. Other victims apparently include Slovak legend Pavol Demitra and Swedish goalkeeper Liv Stefan. IIHF President René Fasel called the day the blackest in the history of the sport.
The American Central Intelligence Agency used Czech airports to carry out extraordinary renditions on at least two occasions in 2004. According to US court documents acquired by Czech Radio, two small jets with diplomatic status landed in Prague in the autumn of that year ferrying terrorism suspects between the United States and sites in the Middle East. The CIA used two external companies to intermediate the transfers. The same planes were also used to transfer prisoners to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Czech politicians have consistently denied any participation on the part of the Czech Republic in the CIA’s clandestine rendition programmes. The US embassy in Prague has thus far refused to comment.
The national intelligence agency, BIS, has issued damning criticism of the Czech judiciary in its annual report for 2010. The report claims that the system is burdened by corruption, leaking of sensitive information, shady contacts with the criminal underworld and sluggish officials. These offenses, it says, go unpunished thanks to the legally defined position of judges and public prosecutors. As an example of corruption and ‘clientelism’, the report cites the ties between the police and state administration and the law college at the University of West Bohemia, where some students received academic qualifications without having done the necessary work. BIS reports that such situations have repeatedly been uncovered at other law colleges in the country.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is in the Czech Republic for talks regarding the organisation’s transformation and role in global security. The top NATO official will also be discussing military operations in Afghanistan, missile defence and relations with Russia with Prime Minister Petr Nečas, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra. The talks are further expected to cover the participation the Czech Republic in allied operations and missions, the alliance summit in 2012 as well as possible developments in Libya. Regarding the latter, Mr Rasmussen said Wednesday that he has no information regarding the whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi, and added that he was not a target of NATO’s operations.
An afternoon session of Parliament was suspended on Wednesday after a Public Affairs MP was found to have tampered with the voting cards of two of her absent colleagues. Jana Drastichová removed the cards of her party colleagues during a procedural vote on extending the session until the evening, thereby decreasing the quorum needed for the vote. She has apologised and admitted having misunderstood the proper procedure. The opposition accused her of a serious infraction. The action could not, however, have affected the outcome of the vote. MPs were to vote on a number of government reforms on Wednesday afternoon; that session has now been moved to Friday.
The Chamber of Deputies did however manage to push through a health care services reform bill arranging the rights and obligations of providers and patients. The main points of the government-sponsored bill cover the right of patients to decide what kind of health care they receive, and patients should have the right to all information on their medical condition and the services they are to be provided. Home or community treatment of psychological problems should be given preference. The amendment will be valid for five years if passed by the Senate. Opposition critics said that the bill hinders, rather than expands, patients’ rights.
The lower house of parliament has overturned President Klaus’ veto and given final approval to a bill which will provide local administrations with the means to fight air pollution more effectively. During smog alerts, for example, mayors will now be able to order major polluters to scale down production, ban high-emissions cars from city centres and scrap tolls on ring roads in order to reduce the amount of traffic.
Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš will be postponing the construction of several roads due to a lack of finances, the news website Aktualne.cz has reported. The postponements include a two-year suspension of the east part of the Prague ring road, as well as the last four kilometres of the D11 motorway linking Prague and Hradec Králové. The website suggests the new plans are a move to convince the government to boost the ministry’s budget by 12 billion next year for construction plans.
A Swiss court has dismissed fugitive Czech entrepreneur Tomas Pitr's appeal against extradition to the Czech Republic where he was convicted for tax evasion, the Justice Ministry has announced. He can still appeal the ruling through the Swiss Supreme Court. The Swiss police arrested Mr Pitr in a recreation centre in the Alps in July of last year. Last December, the Swiss Justice Ministry complied with Prague's request for Pitr’s extradition, but he appealed the decision. In 2006 a Czech court sentenced Pitr to five years in prison for tax fraud. Pitr, however, failed to turn up in prison. According to available information, he was hiding abroad from June 2007. In April 2010, a Czech court sentenced him to six years in jail in absentia for suspicious deals in shares of the Setuza and Milo Surovarny.
Pop songwriter and poet Pavel Vrba died on Wednesday. The 73-year-old succumbed to the results of a stroke he had suffered last Thursday. Pavel Vrba wrote more than 2000 songs over the course of his long career, of more than 40 years. In that time he worked with all of the stars of popular Czech music, such as Helena Vondráčková and Karel Gott. He was known for his work in theatre and with musicals in the Karlín Theatre.
Conditions over the coming days are expected to remain cloudy with scatter showers and daytime highs of around 19° Celsius.