The new school year started on Thursday, with 1.2 million children going back to school. Czech President Václav Klaus welcomed students at a secondary school in Ostrava, which is run by his son, Václav Klaus Jr., while Education Minister Josef Dobeš marked the start of the school year at an elementary school in the Prague district of Žižkov. Mr Klaus noted that unlike Czech universities and secondary schools, the country’s elementary school system is doing well in comparison with schools abroad. The school year 2011-2012 brings several changes, including a trial run of contracts between schools and parents to help alleviate increasing problems with misbehaved children.
The lower house of Parliament on Thursday is debating several bills as part of the government’s social and welfare reform. If passed and signed into law, they will introduce a number of changes to the welfare system; for instance, social and unemployment benefits will no longer be given out by municipalities but rather by labour offices. Under public pressure however, the government has scrapped plans to introduce compulsory “social cards” for people to take out pensions and benefits from ATMs. The reform also introduces harsher penalties for abusing social welfare. The centre-right coalition is expected to push the reform bills, strongly opposed by the Social Democrats and Communists, through the lower house next week.
The deficit of Czech public finances in August reached 87.3 billion crowns, up from 61.1 billion in July, the Czech Finance Ministry said on Thursday. While revenues dropped by 3.8 billion year-on-year, expenditures rose annually by 4.8 billion crowns. Analysts said the increase was slightly higher than expected. The government approved an overall budget deficit for this year of 135 billion crowns, or 3.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The Czech Republic will next year provide 350 troops for the European Union’s battle groups, the Czech chief of general staff Vlastimil Picek said after meeting with the chairman of the EU military committee Hakan Syren in Prague on Thursday. The Czech army will provide a mechanized company complete with logistics support, Mr Picek said. The EU’s military contingent will consist of 2,800 soldiers from six countries including Germany, Austria, Croatia, Macedonia and Ireland; it will be deployed on humanitarian, peace-keeping and reconstruction missions.
The Czech army is to undergo an intensive weight reduction programme that has nothing to do with the Defence Ministry’s cost-cutting measures, the daily Lidove Noviny reports. Medical check-ups have revealed that around half of Czech soldiers are overweight and one in seven is obese. The army has acquired weight-loss pills to the tune of one million crowns and will put overweight soldiers on a strict diet. The weight loss reduction programme should affect around 11,000 soldiers and the results are to be assessed in six months time.
Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreu berated on Thursday Czech President Václav Klaus over his recent comments about lazy ouzo drinkers. Mr Klaus told the Czech daily Právo on Saturday it was absolutely fine if Greeks choose to spend more hours drinking ouzo under cypress trees; in that case, however they cannot form a monetary union with Germany, the Czech president added. The Czech news agency quoted the Greek prime minister as saying that Mr Klaus expressed his populist anti-Europeanism by offending Greeks. Should Europe not overcome such views, Mr Papandreu said, it will once again suffer fragmentation and its people will lose the achievements reached in the last 60 years.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Czech Education Ministry in Prague on Thursday to demand the sacking of Ladislav Bátora, a controversial right wing figure who now serves as the minister’s deputy chief of staff. Mr Bátora, who has been accused of promoting right-wing extremism, was at the core of a recent government crisis. Ministers for the coalition TOP 09 party refused to take part in the government’s sessions if Mr Bátora stays in his position of the Education Ministry’s human resources boss. Minister Josef Dobeš eventually gave in but appointed Mr Bátora in a new position.
The number of Czech eco farms in August reached 4,022, up by more than 500 since the beginning of the year, according to figures released by the Agriculture Ministry on Thursday. Last year, the number of organic farms grew by one third. Farmers observing the principles of organic farming worked the total area of over 480,000 hectares. At the same time, the country’s market with organic food grew slightly last year to around two billion crowns.
Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená cancelled on Thursday all her concerts and appearances in September over health problems, her manager David Dittrich told reporters on Thursday. Mr Dittrich said the problems were not serious and were not related to her vocal cords. The 38-year-old Berlin-based opera singer was scheduled to appear at concerts in Switzerland and the city of Brno.
Czech high jumper Jaroslav Bába finished fourth at the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea, on Thursday. The Czech athlete jumped 232 cm, but failed at 235 cm, one centimetre below his personal best. In other events, Czech javelin throwers Barbora Špotáková and Jarmila Klimešová on Thursday secured spots in women’s final on Friday, while shot putter Jan Marcell failed to qualify for the final.
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