President Vaclav Klaus on Monday rejected speculation of a secret deal at Prague Castle which would give him more leverage in foreign policy matters. Speaking after his traditional New Year’s lunch with the prime minister, the president said that no secret deal had been made at the talks preceding December’s no-confidence vote in the centre right cabinet. The president called the meeting in a successful, last-minute bid to restore government unity but the content of the talks has been kept under wraps. Mr. Klaus told journalists nothing out-of-the ordinary had been agreed, saying he had merely helped the parties of the coalition government to see eye-to-eye on some matters. The secrecy surrounding the agreement, which included the resignation of the police president, has led to widespread speculation in the media. Mr. Klaus has also come under fire for taking on too much initiative and overstepping his powers as head of state.
A state attorney has asked the police to ascertain whether Czech top officials who were informed about the possibility of manipulation with public tenders at the Environment Ministry did not break the law in failing to report the matter. The case relates to a recent government scandal that led to the resignation of the environment minister and an unsuccessful vote of no-confidence in the centre right coalition government. It emerged that the head of the Environmental Fund had taped several conversations implicating a number of people and had warned both the former environment minister and the prime minister of what was going on weeks before the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes broke the story. Neither official contacted the police.
Top economist Pavel Kohout has announced he will step down from the government’s economic advisory council, NERV. Mr. Kohout said his surprise decision would take effect within three months. He has been charged on the council with supervising work on a proposed new law on public tenders and on pension reform. But Mr. Kohout has expressed dissatisfaction with the way the new law is being drawn up under the direction of the Ministry for Regional Development, saying that the hoped-for savings by tightening up the tender system do not look like they will be delivered. He has also questioned the ministry’s willingness to get to grips with the problem.
The 2010 Czech state budget posted a deficit of 156.3 billion crowns, a significant reduction against the projected 162.7 billion, the Finance Ministry said on Monday. This was achieved thanks to cost-cutting measures in the public sector and lower expenditures in state-debt servicing. The government is committed to a gradual reduction of the gap in public financing aiming for a balanced budget in 2016. The 2011 budget has a projected deficit of 135 billion crowns.
Pavel Zeman, who was appointed Supreme State Attorney late last year officially took up the post on Monday. He said his immediate priorities were to reform the working of the Supreme State Attorney’s Office, improve communication, and effectively fight corruption. Zeman, who is 38, was the Czech representative in Eurojust. He also worked as an attorney at the international section of the Supreme State Attorney's Office in Brno. He replaces Renata Vesecka, who was dismissed from her post in connection with a court case involving a former deputy prime minister in which she is suspected of abusing her position.
The number of involuntary auctions of property almost doubled in 2010 with almost 800 such auctions taking place. The value of the sales rose by 5.4 billion crowns to 13.4 billion crowns. Last year’s rise was mainly due to more Czechs failing to make mortgage payments or repay consumer loans, according to the manager of the country’s biggest auction house. The number of auctions is expected to climb at a slower pace this year, by around 15-20 percent, but still push through the 1,000 total.
Czech political parties were given over 1.0 billion crowns, around 53 million US dollars, last year from the state budget according to figures released on Monday by the Ministry of Finance. The doubling in payments compared with 2009 was largely the result of May’s elections to the lower house of Parliament. The winner of most votes, the Social Democrats, received almost 285 million crowns in payments for its election result followed by the Civic Democrats with almost 260 million crowns. The Communist Party was paid almost 125 million with new parties TOP 09 getting 121 million and Public Affairs 78 million. Further payments were made to parties which gained more than 3.0 percent of the vote and according to the number of seats they won in parliament and regional assemblies.
The three largest car makers in the Czech Republic last year produced more than one million cars, setting a historic record of cars produced per capita, according to unofficial figures published in the daily Mlada fronta Dnes. Skoda Auto, Hyundai Nosovice and TPCA Kolin reportedly made 984,000 cars in January-November, with the overall 12-month figure expected to top a million vehicles. Skoda Auto contributed most to the record figure, while turning out the highest number of cars in its history. By the end of November it had produced over 530,000 cars. Hyundai´s production was near the 200,000 level. 2010 was weaker for TPCA. Interest in small cars started to fall with the end of the car-scrapping premium and TPCA output dropped by roughly 10 percent.
Plastic surgeons in Brno have operated on a six-year-old boy who had his thumb blown off in an accident with fireworks on New Year’s Day. The child found the remains of used fireworks in the street and brought them home to play with. One of them exploded in his hand. Doctors say they have managed to reattach the boy’s thumb but it will take a week or so before the operation can be deemed a success.
In ice hockey, the Czech under-20 team narrowly beat Germany in the world championships underway in Canada. The win in the relegation round assures the Czechs will stay in the top flight at this level. The Czechs had to come back after twice going down to eventually win 3:2. The hero of the game was Ondřej Palát with two goals including the winner. In the last match on Tuesday, the Czechs go on to meet Slovakia, which has also assured it will stay up in the top world competition.
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