The transport workers’ union is preparing a general strike that will affect motorway, railway and urban public transportation, to take place in June. Its president, Luboš Pomajbík, announced the decision on Wednesday, stating that unless the government reaches an agreement with the trade union umbrella organization ČMKOS regarding planned reforms in the country’s pension, social and health care systems, the strike will be held as planned. He added that the exact time of the strike will be kept secret until the last minute. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he deplored the union’s decision and that he would not play into demands for further negotiations regarding the planned reforms.
The head of the extremist National Democratic Party of Germany Udo Voigt has been invited to the Czech Republic by the extremist Workers’ Party for Social Justice. Its leader, Jiří Štěpánek, said on Wednesday that the visit of Mr. Voigt and his delegation, scheduled for Saturday, is meant to intensify collaboration between both parties. Mr. Voigt made headlines in 2007, when he publicly downplayed the extent of the Holocaust. A number of members of the German NPD have been charged with similar acts of hate speech. The Workers’ Party for Social Justice is considered the successor of the far-right Workers’ Party, which was banned in February of last year.
The government on Wednesday approved a change to the system of value added tax, to take effect in 2013. Under the proposed legislation, the regular 20 percent VAT and the lowered-rate VAT of 10 percent will be replaced by a universal VAT of 17.5 percent, following a temporary increase of the lower VAT to 14 percent in 2012. According to the Ministry of Finance, pensioners and low-income households will be most affected by this change, however, both groups will benefit from a change in the pension and welfare law, respectively. The government coalition said this step will be instrumental in financing its large-scale pension reform.
In related news, opponents of the change to the VAT system have announced further protests against the new legislation. They are set to meet with Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek on Thursday to discuss alternative solutions. Critics, most of whom are in the publishing business, fear that increasing the current lowered VAT rate of ten percent by 4 percent in 2012, and subsequently introducing one universal VAT rate of 17.5 percent in 2013, will significantly increase the cost of books. Some have predicted that the change in law may force many smaller publishing houses to close down.
The Interior Ministry needs an additional three billion crowns for its 2012 budget, Interior Minister Jan Kubice said Wednesday. Mr. Kubice warned that unless his ministry’s budget is increased, it will not be able to fulfill all its tasks and serious problems are to be expected. In a recent appearance on Czech Television, Mr. Kubice said that firefighters and police lack the funds to operate in December and have to re-organize their finances to account for the lack of funding. The ministry’s 2011 budget was 52.9 billion crowns, nearly seven billion less than in the previous year.
On Wednesday, Czech President Václav Klaus met with King Albert II of Belgium in Brussels. On occasion of his two-day official visit to Belgium, Mr. Klaus is also set to meet with World War II veterans who helped liberate Plzeň from Nazi rule. On Tuesday, the Czech president met with Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who has been heading a federal caretaker government for almost a year, following failed coalition talks between the French-speaking south and Dutch-speaking north.
On Wednesday, archaeologists found a skull near the site of an alleged mass grave where some 15 Germans are said to have been murdered by Czech locals at the end of World War II, in the town of Dobronín, in the Jihlava region. According to criminal police investigators, the victims’ relatives and descendants in Germany welcome the Czech effort to shed light on post-war murders of Germans on Czech lands. The search locations were determined on the basis of scientific measurements of soil, as well as documents gathered by the police. Last summer, anthropologists found the bodies of at least 13 victims in the nearby town of Budínka. Criminal police are investigating the case.
Prague police are investigating a recent string of violent attacks in the city’s metro system. A police spokeswoman said on Wednesday that Prague police have received a great number of calls from witnesses, which will hopefully lead to the arrest of the perpetrators. According to surveillance camera material, a group of young males is behind the violent attacks. On two separate occasions in late April and early May, the youngsters brutally and without prior provocation beat up victims travelling on their own.
In its 46th year, the Karlovy Vary Film Festival will honor important contributions to Czech cinema. Festival director Jiří Bartoška announced on Wednesday that several well-known figures in Czech film will be honored with special screenings. The classic musical comedy Světáci will be shown in honor of actresses Jiřina Bohdalová, Jiřina Jírásková and Iva Janžurová, all of whom are celebrating round birthdays this year and will be in attendance. Another screening will celebrate the memory of director and screenwriter Ladislav Smoljak, who died last year. The musical comedy Trhák, based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Zděnek Svěrák, will be screened at the festival on June 7.
The Czech company Linet, which produces hospital beds and other professional health care products, has secured a 42 million crown (1.5 million British pounds) tender in Great Britain, the weekly Ekonom reported on Wednesday. The company has a five-year contract with several hospitals to which it will provide beds as well as disinfecting services for the beds. Linet exports its products to 90 countries worldwide. The company is among the four biggest producers of hospital beds internationally.
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