Czech President Václav Klaus has asked his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich for reassurances that the case against former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is not political. The information was revealed by the presidential office’s spokesman Radim Ochvat on Tuesday. In a letter to the Ukrainian head-of-state, Mr Klaus reportedly stressed that he had no reason not to trust the impartiality of the Ukrainian judiciary or to doubt the independence of its courts. At the same, time, he asked for personal reassurances of the president that neither personal nor political discord on Ukraine’s political scene was behind current developments. In the case against Yuliya Tymoshenko, she has been accused of having harmed the state when she signed a contract on the purchase of Russian gas in 2009. On Monday a Kiev court rejected the defence´s demand that she be released from custody, where she is being held for alleged contempt of court.
The country’s anti-monopoly office has prohibited Czech Railways from purchasing 16 Railjet trains produced by Siemens. The deal is worth nearly five billion crowns and would be the country’s largest ever investment in long-distance trains. The decision is a preliminary measure resulting from a complaint lodged by Škoda Transportation, which has questioned the deal’s transparency and claimed it is capable of offering Czech Railways cheaper trains of comparable quality. The manufacturer has also charged that the Siemens trains, which can travel at speeds of 230 kilometres per hour, are unnecessary on Czech railway routes, where trains travel a maximum of 160 km/h. Czech Railways plans to appeal the anti-monopoly office’s decision.
The Prague Stock Exchange’s PX Index dropped 6 percent on Monday closing at 1027 points — its lowest level in two years on a day which saw record loses for several titles traded on the exchange. Trading volume reached 3.2 billion crowns compared to the average over the past year of 1.3 billion crown. The title which recorded the largest percentage fall on the exchange was the second-hand car dealership AAA Auto which fell by more than 20 percent; Central European Media Enterprises, which own private broadcaster TV Nova, dropped over 16 percent. The state-controlled energy giant ČEZ also saw losses of more than eight percent. Stock markets in Europe - including the Czech Republic have suffered as investors have grown increasingly worried over European debt as well as developments in the US.
A number of deputies from the Civic Democratic party are reportedly weighing the option of not backing a demand by police for Vít Bárta, the de facto leader of the Public Affairs party, to be stripped of immunity. The item was reported by the financial daily Hospodářské noviny on Tuesday. Mr Bárta is suspected of having attempted to bribe members of his party, a junior member in government, in return for loyalty – a major scandal which rocked the country’s centre-right coalition earlier this year. According to the daily, Prime Minister Petr Nečas, the head of the senior Civic Democrats, allegedly said at a meeting he probably won’t support the removal of immunity. He did tell the paper that the option has not yet been discussed at the deputy club level. The Chamber of Deputies is likely to decide on the issue at its session in late August.
Organisers of a gay rights festival which begins in Prague on Wednesday, say they expect a turnout of more than 7,000 people during Saturday’s planned parade. Prague Pride, offering dozens of events through to Sunday, is the first festival of its kind in the Czech Republic. The planned events, however, have come under fire from ultra-conservatives and provoked highly-controversial remarks from some officials. Petr Hájek, a close aide to President Václav Klaus, for example, referred to homosexuals as “deviants” in connection with the event. The president later backed Mr Hájek by describing deviant as a “neutral” term. At a press conference in Prague on Wednesday the head of Prague Pride, Czeslaw Walek, suggested that those who held similar opinions in the Czech Republic were few, while guest speaker Radim Špaček, a well-known film director, called Czech society tolerant. No special steps have been taken regarding security during the festival, although one event was called off for security reasons.
In related news, Prime Minister Petr Nečas criticised an advisor at the Education Ministry, Ladislav Bátora, on Tuesday for coming out against the gay rights event. He said that it was unacceptable for a state administrator to behave like a political activist: besides his work at the ministry Mr Bátora heads an ultra-conservative citizen’s initiative. On Monday he called upon Prague Mayor Bohuslav Sobota and American Ambassador Norman Eisen to renounce their support for the Prague Pride march. The prime minister called the controversy over Prague Pride “needlessly dramatic and inflated” and requested the parties involved to tone down their rhetoric.
Around 40 environmental activists on Tuesday continued their blockade in Šumava National Park to try and prevent some 50 loggers and 40 other workers from felling trees marked for cutting or from clearing bark. The park management has taken the steps, it says, in order to limit the spread of further damage from bark-beetle infestation. A police spokeswoman said that the situation was calmer on Tuesday than over the last few days. Protestors in sensitive areas of the park have repeatedly tied themselves to trees marked for felling in the attempt to stop logging from going ahead. They argue that the park management does not have the needed permits to cut in the forest. A preliminary court order has however allowed logging to continue.
Former actress Jiřina Švorcová has died in Prague after succumbing to a prolonged illness. The 83-year-old is best known today as a firebrand communist, remaining loyal to that party even after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Švorcová was a part of Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre for many years before reaching broader national attention in the title role of the television series Žena za pultem (The Saleswoman). In 1976, she became a member of the Communist party’s broader leadership and in 1977 she delivered an infamous address denouncing the human rights manifesto Charter 77. Her death was announced on Monday by the chairman of the Communist Party.
A Czech-British ska band called The Chancers has featured legendary Czech footballer Antonín Panenka, along with a number of other Czech celebrities, in one of the group’s music videos, to be premiered on August 11. Also featured are boxing champion Stanislav Tišer and Jan Haubert of the Czech punk band Visací zámek. The video, the band said, celebrated the city where members lived; they stressed that they had wanted personalities they respected to take part. Mr Panenka scored one of the most famous goals in football history to win the 1976 European Championship for Czechoslovakia. The game went into penalties where Mr Panenka chipped the ball famously into the centre of the net as West Germany’s goalkeeper dove left.
The Czech national football squad is readying for a friendly against Norway, its final international match before qualifying for Euro 2012 resumes in September. The Czechs will face the Norwegian squad in Oslo on Wednesday. Team coach Michal Bílek said that his side needed a good result to improve the atmosphere ahead of the upcoming qualification match against Scotland. New players nominated to the squad include Marcel Gecov and Tomáš Pekhart. Regulars like goalie Petr Čech and striker Milan Baroš are also on the roster for Wednesday.
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