The unofficial head of the Public Affairs party Transport Minister Vít Bárta, hit by serious corruption allegations, has stepped down from his post in the country’s cabinet. His notice was accepted on Friday by the prime minister and must now be confirmed by the president. Speaking to journalists, Mr Bárta made clear he was taking the step to prevent damage to the coalition government and its reform plans. The step follows allegations on Thursday that Mr Bárta gave a high-standing former party member a 500,000 crown bribe. A former deputy leader has made similar claims. Mr Bárta has denied any wrongdoing and said the alleged bribes were loans. Although he has quit the government, Mr Bárta confirmed on Friday he will still run for the post of leader of Public Affairs in part, he said, to clear his name.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said at his own press conference following Mr Bárta’s announcement, that he had expected no other outcome to developments and said there had been no other viable option, saying he had accepted Mr Bárta’s resignation ‘immediately’. Speaking on live television, Mr Nečas made clear he was taking the growing scandal with utmost seriousness, and expressed concern over new allegations of ties between government officials and private detective agency ABL – formerly owned by Mr Bárta and now owned and run by his brother. In that light, the prime minister has cast doubt on whether the Public Affairs party should keep the post of interior minister, held by Radek John, saying that will be the subject of a meeting between coalition leaders later on Friday. Mr Nečas said in no uncertain terms that the cabinet faces a shakeup in the spring period, saying that some ministers were not up to their jobs.
In related news, a day earlier Public Affairs expelled two members at a meeting of party MPs, as corruption allegations against the party’s unofficial leader Vít Bárta grew. Krystýna Kočí, who filed charges against Mr Bárta for allegedly attempting to bribe her with a payment of 500,000 crowns and was the head of the deputies’ club, was one of those thrown out. MP Stanislav Huml was also forced out after he sided with Ms Kočí and Jaroslav Škárka, another former member who has claimed to have been paid under the table by the transport minister for his loyalty and secrecy on financial affairs. The allegations have brought a major shadow over the self-styled anti-corruption party and have threatened the stability of the ruling coalition.
Karolina Peake has been named the new head of the Public Affairs deputies’ group, party chairman and Interior Minister Radek John revealed on Friday. Mrs Peake replaces Kristýna Kočí who was expelled from the party on Thursday. John, Peake and former minister Vít Barta will represent the party in government coalition negotiations. Public Affairs had 24 MPs after the 2010 general election but its membership has now shrunk to 21. Another deputy Jana Suchá may become the fourth to leave the group. She told the Czech news agency on Friday that she was considering matters at hand.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ended a two-day official visit to the Czech Republic. On Thursday, the Israeli leader met with his Czech counterpart Petr Nečas, to discuss a number of topics including economic and security issues, while on Friday Mr Netanyahu met with Czech President Václav Klaus, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and other senior officials. The visit was the first ever by an Israeli prime minister to the Czech Republic, which is a close ally of Israel’s within the EU; the visit understandably saw heightened security. At least one civic association organised protests over Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
The top leadership of the Social Democrats has given the green light for the party to audit activities of the party’s shadow ministers, namely whether they have presented effective counter-proposals and reaction to policies of the current coalition government. The idea was proposed by the head of the party, Bohuslav Sobotka, at the Social Democrats’ recent leadership conference. The audit should be completed by the end of April. There is speculation that the newly-elected leader could replace supporters of his rival at the conference for the post of chairman, Michal Hašek, who were not elected to the party’s top leadership. Names being mentioned in the media include the shadow minister of industry and trade, Milan Urban, and shadow transport minister Roman Onderka.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic fell to 9.2 percent in March from 9.6 percent in February, the second monthly improvement in a row, official data just released has shown. Employment offices registered 525,500 job seekers in March, down 21,757 from February and 30,804 fewer than in March 2010. Specialists stress that unemployment improved due to seasonal factors as sectors such as construction, farming and some services have begun hiring. The unemployment rate has been hovering around the 9.0-percent level since the end of 2009. In March 2010, it stood at 9.7 percent.
The Mladá Boleslav-based carmaker Škoda Auto has triumphed in a survey of “most admired” companies on Czech soil for 2011, voted upon by top managers, economic and financial analysts, union representatives and members of the Top 100 Association. The contest is in its 13th year. The winner Škoda was followed by Czech energy giant ČEZ in second place, and the tourist transit company Student Agency in third. While many firms finish in top spots regularly, the head of the Top 100 Association Jan Struž said the latest competition had seen a number of newcomers place for the first time, among them the Prague Zoo.
An unknown perpetrator stole a commemorative bronze plaque honouring the late Milan Hlavsa, the frontman and key member of the legendary Czech underground band The Plastic People of the Universe. The theft took place on Thursday in Prague’s Ječná street. The police have estimated the damage at a quarter of a million crowns. The plaque was originally unveiled six years ago. Milan Hlavsa died in 2001 at the age of just 49. In January former band mates and friends held a special concert in Prague in his memory.
Atlanta goalie Ondřej Pavelec kept the New Yorker Rangers off the scoreboard in their Thursday matchup, stopping 29 shots to earn his fourth shutout of the regular season. Atlanta are out of playoff contention but the win complicated the situation for the Rangers as the season wraps up: New York is in the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference and will need a win in the final game to qualify.
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