Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said the Czech Republic is in favour of NATO supervising Western military operations in Libya, saying he wanted military involvement (which has been backed by the UN Security Council to try and protect Libyan civilians) to be coordinated within the NATO framework. Ambassadors from NATO countries are meeting on Sunday to discuss the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s possible role in helping enforce the no-fly zone. Saturday saw air strikes by the France, the US and the UK against forces loyal to the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, prompting threats of a ‘long war’ from the Libyan leader. Speaking on Czech TV on Sunday, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stressed it was not likely the Czech Republic would join in the operations presently but the minister did not rule out the country’s chemical warfare unit could be deployed.
Ex-president Václav Havel was released from a Prague hospital on Sunday morning, almost a fortnight after he was admitted suffering from acute bronchitis. Mr Havel has been prone to this type of ailment in the past, having had half of a lung together with a malignant tumour removed in 1996. His health also suffered through his imprisonment under the Communist regime. The 74-year-old playwright and first-time film director will continue treatment at home but will be able to attend the Tuesday private of his first film Leaving – based on his play of the same name. The film has its public premiere on March 24.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has said the results of a ministry check of crisis-stricken lottery giant Sazka, will determine next steps, if any, are taken, including the possible revocation of the firm’s lottery licence. Moves to launch insolvency proceedings against the firm date back to January and last week, the company‘s management reportedly called for clearance not to make major payouts to winners amid news that January’s jackpot ticketholder of over 100 million crowns was still waiting for his winnings. The demand was refused by the insolvency administrator brought in to try and sort out the company’s growing financial crisis. The company is facing a mounting crisis after being landed with paying for the sports hall built when Prague hosted the world ice hockey championships in 2004.
The head of the independent unions association, Bohumir Dufek, has warned the unions are weighing the possibility of a general strike in response to the government’s tax reforms planned for 2013. The Finance Ministry announced proposed changes, which have yet to be debated by members of the coalition government and specialists, on Friday. Ideas proposed include the abolition of the “supergross” tax wage, unifying the income and corporate tax rates at 19 percent, and slashing a high number of exemptions including that of interest from home mortgages. Unions head Dufek warned that the government could not ‘endlessly experiment on employee taxes’ and expect no response. The Finance Ministry has argued the proposals will lower the current tax burden for employees, but some experts have estimated that most tax payers would not see a major improvement.
More than 30,000 members of the police, fire fighters and security forces unions have signed a petition calling for Interior Minister Radek John to resign. The latest numbers were announced on Friday, two days before the protest wraps up. Signatories are showing their discontent over salary and operational cuts. In the past Mr John has defended himself by saying he was successful in securing some additional funds and argued that measures introduced were the responsibility of the centre-right ‘austerity’ government as a whole. Members of the police and fire fighter forces are reportedly unhappy with the minister not only over cuts but also with his approach: recently Mr John said he would rather emigrate if the country was going to be ruled by the unions. According to the Czech news agency, organisers plan to present the results of the petition to the prime minister at the beginning of April.
A 35-year-old employee at the Unipetrol chemical plant in Záluží na Mostecku died from injuries on Saturday from an 18 metre fall. The accident reportedly happened at one of the buildings on site during the taking down of scaffolding, a spokeswoman said. The man was taken to the hospital by helicopter but succumbed to his injuries during the night. The death was confirmed by the local police. A special committee will be formed on Monday to look into the accident, which is also being investigated by the police.
Defenceman Jan Hejda was the only Czech player to score in an
action-packed NHL on Saturday night, getting one goal against Minnesota
Columbus. The 32-year-old scored his fifth goal of the season from the
right faceoff circle. Minnesota won the game 5:4 in overtime.
In other hockey news, 46-year-old legendary Czech goalie Dominik Hašek took part in a charity event for young hockey players in the NHL, dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff in the Sabres-Thrashers game. The Sabres romped over Atlanta 8:2, seeing Czech goalie Ondřej Pavelec chased from the net after allowing three goals in the first period.
New Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka, elected by delegates at the party’s congress in Brno on Friday, said he wants his party to form a consistent opposition to the current government while offering its own brand of “socially just reforms”. On Friday the 39-year-old former finance minister faced a close contest against rival Michal Hašek, the governor of South Moravia, who had been seen by some delegates as the more moderate of the two. Despite his defeat, Mr Hašek was elected the party’s principal deputy leader later in the evening. Delegates have since voted on the final five members of the top party leadership: they are seasoned Social Democrats Lubomír Zaorálek and Zdeněk Škromach, former supreme state attorney Marie Benešová, Martin Starec, and Jiří Dienstbier, jr.
In related news, the former interior minister Martin Pecina, unsatisfied with the results of the Social Democrat congress, has said he will give up his seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The MP told internet news website iDnes that he respected the result but would not keep his seat as he disagrees with the party's policy towards the coalition cabinet. He also made clear he had been given little room to operate within the top party leadership, either as a shadow cabinet minister or deputy leader. Mr Pecina had supported Michal Hašek for party chairman. The politician – who rose to prominence as the former head of the Czech National Library – said that while he would give up his post, he would not give up his membership in the Social Democratic Party.
At the party congress, Social Democrat delegates elected former post-1989 Czechoslovak deputy prime minister Valtr Komárek as their honorary chairman, succeeding the late Slavomír Klaban in the post. In his speech ahead of the vote Mr Komárek, an economist and the sole candidate for the honorary position, said that the Social Democrats needed to try and change the political direction of the country, focussing on the development of the nation, increasing levels of education and improving the economy. Mr Komarek was an advisor to the revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara in the 1960s and is the former head of the prognostics institute where, under communism, he worked with other notable figures such as Miloš Zeman (later prime minister) and economist Václav Klaus, who is the Czech head-of-state.
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