Prime Minister Jan Fischer, the head of the current government, will be taking up the post of vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in September. Mr. Fischer’s portfolio will include communication with member countries of the bank, as well as the European Commission, and supervising environmental and social aspects of the EBRD’s work. Mr. Fischer said on Wednesday that if the formation of a new Czech government after May’s general elections should not be completed by September 1, the starting date of his term as the EBRD’s vice president, he would remain in office until the new government was formed. The Czech prime minister applied for the position of EBRD vice president on the recommendation of both the Czech finance minster and the governor of the Czech National Bank. He will be replacing the former Slovak minister of finance Brigit Schmögnerová, whose term expires this year. The EBRD’s board of directors is expected to approve Mr. Fischer’s nomination in May.
Dominik Duka, the Prague archbishop, was elected the new head of the Czech Bishops’ Conference on Tuesday, the Czech news agency ČTK reported. Dominik Duka is the head of the Czech Republic’s largest diocese and as such was favored by many to be elected to the post. He is replacing Jan Graubner, the Olomouc archbishop, whose second five-year term expired this year. While each archbishop is the lone superior of their diocese, the head of the Czech Bishops’ Conference is in charge of coordinating the activities of all dioceses and may also be chosen to represent the Czech Catholic Church in dealing with the government. In the 1990s, Miroslav Vlk served in both posts.
A spokeswoman for Prague’s Ruzyně airport said that eighty percent of flights scheduled for Wednesday will go ahead. Three-hundred-twenty flights are expected to depart or arrive at Prague’s international airport on Wednesday, including some connections to London, which has seen very limited service in the past few days. The French airline France KLM has cancelled all its connections between Paris and Prague, leaving many Czechs stranded in France. Airport officials expect flights from and to Ruzyně to return to normal capacity by the end of the week. The airport closed down for three days on Friday, after a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland spread over the continent.
In related news, Czech Justice Minister Daniela Kovářová got stranded at Lisbon airport in Portugal on Wednesday. Mrs. Kovářová was returning to Prague via Lisbon from a trip to Salvador, where she attended a UN conference. The minister of justice said that she will not be able to return before Thursday. She added that she will have to cancel a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxemburg to take place on Friday, along with other engagements on her agenda.
Experts from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute said on Wednesday that remaining particles of volcanic ash still in the air over the Czech Republic should disperse by 8 p.m. on Wednesday. In heights over 3000 meters, the concentration of volcanic ash particles in the air is already at a negligible level. Meteorologists expect that strong winds and rain later on Wednesday will clean the air over the Czech Republic of any remaining ash particles in lower heights as well.
The European Union is again going to call on Canada to drop visa requirements from visitors from the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. The bloc’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, said the issue would be raised at a Canada-EU summit at the start of May. Speaking in Brussels, Baroness Ashton said it was not a matter of bilateral relations between Canada and the three countries, but a matter of EU-Canada relations. She said the EU’s aim was clear: visa-free travel to Canada for all its citizens. Ottawa introduced a visa regime for Czechs in July 2009 after a rise in the number of Czech Romany asylum seekers in Canada. It had already imposed the same restriction on people from Romania and Bulgaria, which both joined the European Union in 2007.
A tourist has vandalized the astronomer statue, which is part of Prague’s famous astronomical clock on Old Town Square. The incident, which happened late on Tuesday night, was filmed by security cameras. Thanks to the footage, police were able to quickly arrest the perpetrator. It shows the man breaking off part of the arm of the statue with a metal basket removed from one of the square’s trashcans. Police said that they have not yet been able to question the perpetrator since he still under the influence of alcohol. The man will most likely be charged with vandalism. This is the third time that the astronomer statue has been vandalized in recent years, the last incident happened in April of last year.
Prague’s official website, www.praha.eu, was ranked second on a worldwide list of city websites published by the American internet research association The e-Governance Institute. Prague’s city website placed best among all European cities, with Seoul top of the ladder. A spokesman for Prague town hall said on Wednesday that the number of visitors to the website has significantly grown in recent months. Currently, the website, which contains information both for residents of Prague and tourists, sees about 600,000 visits a month. The e-Governance Institute’s list is the only assessment of city websites not based merely on design criteria. It is compiled in association with the United Nations.
A new survey by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer agency suggests that alcohol consumption in the Czech Republic is below the EU average. Only seven percent of Czechs drink alcoholic beverages on a daily basis, compared to an average of fourteen percent for EU nations overall. Twenty-nine percent of Czechs have wine, beer or spirits about once a week. In Portugal, the EU country with the highest alcohol consumption, fifty percent of the population drink alcohol every day.
A special mass was held at the Vatican on Tuesday morning in honor of the Czech-born cardinal and Jesuit theologian Tomáš Špidlík, who died in Rome on Friday at the age of 90. Pope Benedict XV1 was among the officiators at the ceremony, which was also attended by representatives of the Czech Republic. Cardinal Špidlík’s remains will be placed in the crypt of St Wenceslas Cathedral in Olomouc on Wednesday, before burial at the nearby Velehrad, a popular pilgrimage destination for Czech Roman Catholics.
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