Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg is preparing to expel Ukrainian diplomats from the country. Ukraine expelled two Czech diplomats from the military attaches office at the weekend for “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status”. Kiev has rejected claims that their expulsion on spying charges was in retaliation for Prague’s decision to grant asylum to the country’s former economy minister Bohdan Danylyshyn who has been charged with abuse of power. According to Kiev, the Czechs were gathering information and documents on the Ukrainian armament industry with the aid of two paid Ukrainian collaborators. The Czech Foreign Ministry has denied those claims.
The TOP 09 leadership, which met on Sunday to debate the government crisis
and map out its position at upcoming talks, set its own conditions for the
continuation of the three-party coalition. It said the junior Public
Affairs party must pledge to support key reforms and abandon its role as an
opposition party within the coalition. TOP 09 also maintains that in the
wake of the scandals surrounding Public Affairs the party should make
public a complete survey of its finances.
In view of the scandals surrounding Public Affairs, both its coalition partners have heard calls from within their ranks that it would be wiser to continue without the junior party and rely on their outside support in pushing through key reforms. The two strongest parties have only 94 seats combined in the 200-member lower house and they would thus be left entirely at the mercy of Public Affairs.
Public Affairs sponsor and MP Michal Babák has asked an independent auditing company to inspect his personal and business accounts due to media reports questioning the origin of his assets. The move comes in response to the recently released secret tape of party leaders referring to Mr Babák “working magic” with the party’s finances. He was also recently initially unable to explain the origin of six million crowns that he gave to the party. He later said that he had borrowed most of it from two of his own companies. Mr Babák also said he may file lawsuits to clear his name.
Economist Vladimír Rösel has been appointed to head the National Gallery, Minister of Culture Jiří Besser has announced. He will take office on June 1. Mr Besser said that he and the selection committee had chosen someone who was able to take the institution in a new direction. He team, the minister said, had put together by far the most comprehensive concept for developing the National Gallery and opening it up to the world. The ten-member committee reportedly weighed five candidates to replace the outgoing director, well-known public figure Milan Knížák.
State expenses for social welfare and unemployment last year grew by five billion to roughly 700 billion crowns. The figures come from the state closing account, which the government submitted to Parliament on Monday. Social welfare and unemployment thus amounted to two fifths of all of the money spent from the state budget in 2010. The majority of the expenses came from pension payments, the total amount of which was put at 346 billion crowns. The government’s austerity package, passed last year, was intended to decrease that amount by 23.5 billion; it was shot down by the Constitution Court however and is going through Parliament again.
A poll carried out by the STEM agency suggests that left-wing parties would at present win a large majority in parliamentary elections. According to the poll, elections held today would see the Social Democratic Party with 94 seats and the Communists with 32 out of the 200-member Chamber of Deputies. Meanwhile Public Affairs has suffered another blow to its voter preference, with the survey showing the party would receive 2.3%, far below the 5% threshold needed to get in to Parliament. The Civic Democratic Party would have 46 seats and TOP 09, 28.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš says the fail rate among students who took the newly established secondary school leaving exams was seven percent thus far. Another fifteen percent were not eligible to take the exams. The ministry estimates that about a fifth of students will have to retake the tests. Oral exams will continue until the end of May, and failure rates of 10 or 11% are expected. The new exams include Czech and a second subject, either mathematics or foreign language. Students must then take other tests in common subjects. The system of secondary school leaving exams has been in preparation for 14 years and has been a topic of much disagreement. Mock exams held last October resulted in exceptionally high fail rates.
Only some 53% of people believe this year’s census to have been necessary, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency. That figure shows a decline since 2001, when 59% of Czechs said the census is needed. A slight majority said they thought the census was well organised and roughly every second person said they thought the data would be protected properly from misuse. State statisticians have received 16.8 million completed forms, many of which were duplicates and one fourth of which were sent via the internet.
Police in the north-western town of Louny were forced to use their guns to stop a stolen van last Friday. A police spokeswoman told the Czech Pres Agency on Monday that the 33-year-old driver refused to stop when signalled by the police and then repeatedly attempted to ram their car off the road. The car had been stolen in the area. The police then fired shots in the air and then at the van’s rear tyres. The van went off the road and into a field, where the driver was arrested. No one was injured in the incident.
Police have found the body of a 25-year-old Prague man who has been missing since early March. An employee in the victim’s car dealership confessed to murdering him over money and led police to the body. The suspect apparently told police that the victim owed him several hundreds of thousands of crowns, that they met and had a conflict and that he then shot him. The police were led to the suspect after tracing the victim’s mobile phone activity. If convicted he faces 15 to 20 years imprisonment.
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