The Czech ambassador killed in a terrorist attack in Islamabad on Saturday died helping the wounded escape the fire that followed the blast, the newspaper Hospodářské noviny reported on Monday. Ambassador Ivo Žd’árek could have fled the Marriott Hotel where the bomb exploded just after the attack, but rushed back in to help pull people to safety, the daily said citing an eyewitness. Jaroslav Kalfiřt, the Czech Embassy’s second in command, said the ambassador answered his phone five minutes after the blast and said he was safe. Five minutes later, however, Mr Žd’árek called back asking to be rescued. At least 53 people died and more than 260 were injured after a suicide attacker drove a truck filled with explosives into the hotel’s security gates on Saturday evening.
The full text of the Czech-American Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has been released on the Czech Defence Ministry’s website. The wording of the bilateral agreement was kept secret during negotiations, which spanned the last 16 months. The treaty was signed by Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates at a NATO summit in London last week. The Czech Defence Ministry said afterwards that it was happy with the final wording of the agreement. The SOFA treaty only covers troops stationed at a planned US radar base in Brdy, Central Bohemia, and not all US troops residing on Czech soil. Furthermore, the Czech Republic retains full sovereignty over and ownership rights to the area, a spokesperson for the Defence Ministry said.
Three Czech soldiers have been injured in Afghanistan after their base came under missile attack. The two most seriously injured have been flown to the US field hospital in Bagram, while a third is being treated on site. The attack happened in the early hours of Monday morning, and the families of the injured soldiers are currently being informed, Czech chief of staff Vlastimil Picek said on Monday. The two most seriously injured will be flown back to the Czech Republic when their condition improves, Mr Picek said. Two Czech soldiers have died already this year in Afghanistan’s Logar province, where the Czechs are carrying out reconstruction work.
The Czech government has approved a draft state budget for 2009. After a cabinet meeting on Monday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek told reporters that next year’s budget would leave the state 38.1 billion crowns (2.34 billion USD) in the red. The proposed budget will now be sent to the Lower House for approval, though, with rebel MPs threatening to vote against the bill, it is not yet clear whether the coalition government will secure enough votes for the draft to be passed. In recent days, Deputy PM Jiří Čunek has said that government should step down if it fails to pass the budget bill.
The government also moved on Monday to raise state retirement pensions by around 330 crowns (21 USD) a month on average. As of January 1, those drawing state pensions can expect to receive around 10,000 crowns a month. The move will affect around 2 million Czechs who draw a state pension. Pensions were already raised in August by 470 crowns (29 USD) due to the sharp rise in the price of commodities.
Prague Mayor Pavel Bém said that relations between himself and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek had been improved after Sunday evening’s meeting of senior Civic Democrats. Earlier on Sunday, Mr Bém’s party colleague, Mirek Topolánek accused the Prague mayor on live television of conspiring against him within the party. Mr Topolánek left the meeting of leading Civic Democrats nearly half an hour before it ended on Sunday evening, but afterwards, Mr Bém told press that their dispute had been resolved. Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas added that peace reigned and will reign within the Civic Democratic Party. Bitter divisions within the ruling Civic Democrats were revealed in recent weeks when a blackmailing scandal erupted, forcing one MP to resign, and placing pressure on others to follow suit.
The French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis has raised its offer for Czech market-leader Zentiva, it was announced on Monday. A spokesperson for Zentiva said that the Czech firm’s board had advised shareholders to accept the offer. The new offer is worth 1,150 crowns per share, 100 crowns higher than the previous tender. Zentiva’s board of directors unanimously approved the agreement and said afterwards that they were ‘glad to have reached an agreement’ with the French firm. Sanofi-Aventis’s original offer was turned down in July and, last week, the companied successfully lobbied the Czech National Bank to extend the validity of the takeover bid.
Former President Václav Havel is to be awarded the prestigious Jaroslav Seifert literary prize, it was announced on Monday. The prize has been awarded since 1986 to an author who has produced either remarkable poetry or fiction in the last three years. A spokesperson for the jury said that Mr Havel had been awarded the prize for his eighth volume of collected writings, which spanned the years 1999-2006, and contained many of Mr Havel’s presidential speeches. The former statesman’s book ‘Prosím, stručně’ and the script for his new play ‘Leaving’ were also recognized by the jury. Mr Havel will receive the award at the start of October at a ceremony in Prague. Previous winners of the award include Ludvík Vaculík, Josef Škvorecký and Jiří Suchý.
The Czech Green Party launched its regional election campaign on Monday, saying that environmental issues were at the top of its agenda. Party Chairman Martin Bursik said that one of the Greens’ biggest priorities was to limit air pollution through improving public transport. The environment minister also outlined recycling as a priority. Mr Bursik said that the Greens would be focusing mostly on the regional elections, and not the Senate elections taking place at the same time, because of the party was, he said, especially poorly represented on a local level. Mr Bursik did, however, present the Green Party’s 19 candidates for the Senate on Monday, amongst them former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences Helena Illnerova.
The most trusted politician in the Czech Republic is Bohuslav Sobotka, suggests a new poll conducted by the CVVM agency and released on Monday. Second ranks Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, with a trust rating of 37 percent. Although Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka comes top of the poll, the public’s confidence in him has slid by eight percent since the start of the year, down to 38 percent currently. The poll found Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek amongst the least trusted politicians in the poll, garnering a confidence rating of 12 percent.
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