A Czech army Airbus 319 has departed for Georgia in order to bring humanitarian supplies and also bring home Czechs who have been caught up in the fighting. Specifically, the plane will be bringing blood and blood plasma as well as bandages and other medical supplies. The estimated value of the aid package is five million Czech crowns, according to the Czech Foreign Ministry. Both Czech and Polish citizens currently in Georgia are expected to be on board the return flight. Current estimates suggest around 250 people will return from the region. Because of cited security concerns, the plane will land in neighbouring Armenia. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers have agreed to be ready to send peacekeepers to the region, with the Czech Republic signaling its strong commitment to its soldiers joining the mission. Reports have also emerged that two Czech reporters have been mugged in the region of South Ossetia – both are reported to be unharmed.
Czech police have formally shelved an investigation into former Social Democrat Prime Minister Stanislav Gross’ business dealings. The case revolves around last year’s purchase and sale of shares by Mr. Gross in the company Moravia Energo. Mr Gross purchased a one third stake in the electricity company last year from former colleague Robert Sykora, who also served as deputy trade minister – the loan was financed by a company called Key Investments. Mr Gross then resold the shares to a company called Arca Capital Bohemia, making a sizable profit in the process. The case was investigated by the Czech anti-corruption police, who today announced that they had found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The Czech Republic is in second place behind Lithuania on a Europe-wide table of divorce rates. The findings come from a new survey by the EU statistics office, Eurostat. The figures reveal that divorce rates are up across most of Europe. In the Czech case, there is some positive news – divorce rates are down from a peak in 2004 when 3.3 marriages per thousand ended in divorce. Conversely, the findings also suggest a trend of an increasing desire to marry by Czechs, bucking a trend across Europe of fewer marriages. Meanwhile, Malta, Ireland, Italy and Spain have the lowest divorce rates.
The first half of 2008 has seen a sharp fall in foreign investment into the Czech Republic, according to Czech Invest, the government agency which promotes this cause. According to Czech Invest, the country received 124 investments in the period between January and June totalling around 20 billion crowns. This figure is 29 billion crowns lower than in the same period in 2007 and represents a serious decline and challenge for the Czech Republic. Other seismic shifts have also been evident – last year 98 percent of investments were in manufacturing projects, this year’s figures indicate that 65 percent of investments are in research, development and services. The change in investment dynamics has been explained as a shift from large-scale projects to smaller more targeted projects and is viewed as somewhat positive in the sense that the Czech Republic appears to be moving towards its desired goal of becoming a so-called knowledge-based economy rather than a manufacturing base.
The increasingly embattled Green Party is engaged in a fight over the scheduling of its party conference. A proposal to hold the meeting between 5-7 September has been criticised by members of its National Committee who suggest that the meeting take place after the senate and local elections scheduled for October. The fight throws light on far greater infighting within the party in which more traditionally green left-of-centre forces are battling with right-of-centre “liberals.” Current party leader Martin Bursík is viewed as being in the latter camp and has faced mounting calls for a new leadership contest.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has departed for a planned visit to China to take in the Beijing Olympics. Mr Topolánek will spend three days in the country although a detailed itinerary for the visit has not been made public. Several NGOs and other groups have been pressuring Mr Topolánek to address the issues of human rights, political prisoners and also Tibet during his stay. Although there is speculation just how Mr Topolánek will relay his concerns to China, most analysts are expecting a statement similar to those made by French president Nicolas Sarkozy or US president George W. Bush during similar visits.
Detectives are investigating the disappearance of tens of millions of crowns from the state company Czech Forests or Český Lesy. Specifically, questions surround a 150 million crown contract to renovate the company’s computers. However, critics say that the deal was illegal because it was done without a tender process and the deal was soon cancelled. But much of the monies involved appear to have been paid to the company involved anyway. Czech Forests have so far been unable to explain the serious discrepancy and police are now investigating the matter.
All three of the country’s postal trade unions are to strike in protest at plans to fire 2,500 of the state company’s 37,000 employees. The move comes despite increasing profits and also increased demand for the services of the Czech post office, with employees citing hundreds of hours in accumulated overtime. The company has shed 8000 jobs in the last 15 years and is set to be floated on the stock exchange next year.
The last two Czech tennis hopefuls have lost their respective matches in the Beijing Olympics. Lucie Šafářová lost 5:7, 4:6 in the third round, while Tomáš Berdych also lost in the third round. The latter was defeated by tennis champion Rogera Federer. Tomáš Berdych beat the current number one in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In an interview after the match, the Czech stated that he could have beaten his opponent and blamed himself for an unsatisfactory performance.
The unmistakable sign of forty years of Soviet domination of the Czech lands is set to make a possible comeback in the city of Brno. The sign, along with the communist Red Star was removed with gusto across the Czech lands following the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Now the hammer and sickle is set to return on a memorial stone in Králové Pole, Brno which houses a cemetery containing the remains of 236 Red Army soldiers that fought against the Nazis during World War II. For many, the sign is akin to the Nazi Swastika and inevitably the decision has raised eyebrows. However, local authorities have insisted that the decision has yet to be approved.
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