Prime Minister Petr Necas has rejected criticism of planned pension reform by President Václav Klaus, who says the government approved the reform hastily and without broad debate. Mr Nečas said that work on the pension reform had been thoroughly worked out in the previous election term, and was not completed only because the government was toppled. The pension reform is the first key bill from the coalition government that President Klaus has challenged. He told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes on Friday that he thought it correct to react to the draft reform before considering whether or not to sign it. The government´s pension reform enables people under 35 to send 3% of their compulsory pension insurance to private pension funds on the condition that they add at least 2% on their own.
The Czech Retail Inspectorate has completed an inspection of city centre shops in Prague and banned the sale of tens of millions of crowns worth of luxury goods due to problems encountered in almost all of them. In a number of goods shops in the centre, where foreigners account for most customers, the inspectors uncovered problems with pricing of the goods as there was often no basic information, or the goods were weighed along with the package. Fake designer goods were also uncovered in three boutiques. Along with the measures that have already been taken, the inspected shops will be subjected to administrative actions and fines.
British cabinet ministers have conceded that immigrants from the Czech Republic and other new EU states will be able to claim large welfare benefits come May 1. The expiry of a seven-year ban on welfare restrictions, created when the eight former Soviet bloc countries joined the EU in 2004, mean that some 100,000 immigrants will be able to claim up to £250 (7,100 crowns) per week in jobseekers’ allowances, council tax benefits and housing benefits if they can prove they have worked, intend to work again and want to live in the UK. Some fear a new wave of economic migration. However, the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions says that strict rules are in place to protect the system from abuse.
Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda addressed ideas for re-conceiving the busy motorway that runs directly through central Prague, the north-south “magistrála”. Speaking at a city planning conference called Vision for Prague 2010 – 2014, Mr Svoboda dismissed the idea of running the motorway through a tunnel at Wenceslas Square, saying there was no point in discussing plans for the central motorway until the exterior bypass had been completed. He also said it would be a problem to charge tolls on the road until an interior bypass had been built, as it would merely penalise people for something they could not avoid.
Plan for the potential renovation of Wenceslas Square were also discussed, including one initiative to tear down the historic Federal Assembly building. Mayor Svoboda said that removing the structure to fully expose the old Produce Exchange building within it was something that could be considered and that has been discussed with the Ministry of Culture, which declared it a protected cultural monument in 2000. The aesthetics of the 1974 modernist building has long been a topic of controversy, between experts who consider it an excellent work of architecture and locals who consider it an eyesore. Mr Svoboda said that specialists would have the final word in any renovation of the square and that he was not yet inclined towards any one particular plan.
The Czech Film and Television Academy has announced it will award its highest prize for Best Artistic Contribution to Czech Cinema to veteran actor and writer Zdeněk Svěrák. Mr Svěrák has received two previous Czech Lions for screenwriting, notably for the 1996 film Kolja, which also won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition to his work in film, he is particularly well-known as one of the co-founders of the Theatre of Jára Cimrman. The 2010 Czech Lions will be awarded on the evening of March 5.
The Municipal Court of Prague announced Friday that the coalition party Public Affairs would face bankruptcy charges from a former media supporter, Médea a.s., over 12 million crowns it owed in advertising fees. Friday evening however, the PR company said it would withdraw the complaint after Public Affairs said it would pay the sum. In 2010, Médea a.s. provided inexpensive advertising support for Public Affairs’ campaign efforts. In recent years the company has also had disputes with the Green Party, which complained that its owner, media magnate Jaromír Soukup, provided support but later demanded a role in running government bureaus and managing public funding. He then threw his support behind a breakaway faction of the party.
The Transport Ministry has announced amendments it wants to make to the Road Traffic Act. One change involves making car owners partially legally responsible for minor offences committed with their vehicles, in order to prevent cases where no one is punished because the driver blames a family member. Drivers would also no longer be able to use a telephone while driving, even with a hands-free set. Fines would be bracketed according to a transgressor’s income and would be triple their current amount for wealthy drivers. If approved, the changes would apply from 2012.
Prague’s annual Matějská Fair kicks off at the Výstaviště fairgrounds in Holešovice on Saturday, one week later than usual due to cold weather. Over a hundred attractions will be on offer, from traditional fairground rides like bumper cars and carousels to an exhibition of large prehistoric animals, and numerous attractions brought there from abroad. The fair lasts until April 25..
The playoffs of the Czech hockey extraliga began on Thursday with two quarterfinal series – and victories for the visiting sides. Vítkovice, which ranked third in the regular season, beat České Budějovice 3:1, while defending champions Pardubice took the game against Zlín to overtime and eventually won 3:4. The two quarterfinal best-of-seven series continue on Friday while on Saturday, Litvínov will face the winner of the regular season, Třinec, and Liberec will play Slavia Prague.
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