The cabinet is preparing to replace Education Minister Josef Dobeš, several Czech media outlets report. According to the daily Právo, a threat by the European Commission to halt the payment of 53 billion crowns from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme due to a lack of transparency in the ministry was the last straw for Mr Dobeš, who has been dogged by high profile scandals since taking office. Meanwhile the education minister is also under fire for hiring a member of the Czech Radio Council to his press department in contravention of the law. Právo cites anonymous information that deputy Public Affairs chairwoman Dagmar Navratilová is being considered for the position.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg says he supports a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, but does not believe it will change developments in the country. Speaking from Munich where he is attending an international security conference, Mr Schwarzenberg told the Czech Press Agency that it is necessary to send a signal to Syrian President Bashar Asad that the West is not indifferent to the violent suppression of anti-government protests in Syria. The Security Council is to vote on the resolution on Saturday, but Russia has warned that it will block its passage. The Czech Republic is not currently represented on the council.
Police have moved to prosecute forty people for tax evasion amounting to some 800 million crowns. According to the website of the anti-corruption department, the charges are the result of several years of investigation of people who had offered companies decreased tax liabilities and the directors of the companies who had accepted the offers, or reported the export of non-existent goods abroad. If found guilty they face between five and ten years imprisonment.
Some 500 people assembled in central Brno on Saturday to protest Czech participation in ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Speakers addressed the importance of online liberty and some criticised the government for approving the agreement without public discussion. A performance showed how the agreement could lead to users of pirated material being checked for proof of purchase. Protesters also gathered in Ostrava and Plzeň. An earlier demonstration was held in Prague on Thursday.
Members of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Petr Nečas demanding that the country join the EU budget pact. The scientists write that it is time that the Czech Republic stop behaving like an erratic troublemaker and join the countries that are trying to effectively solve problems. Moreover, they criticise the PM for saying that the budget pact “does not bring us anything advantageous" while at the same time preaching budgetary discipline. The idea that the national interests of the Czech Republic are markedly different than those of other EU countries is unfathomable, the scientists write.
Police are barring increasing numbers of people from their households due to domestic violence. According to a report from the support group Bílého kruhu bezpečí, police confiscated keys in 1430 cases in 2011, about a third more than in the previous year. That number has risen steadily since 2008, when 679 people were barred from their homes. Experts for the group say the trend is due not to rising aggressiveness but to the fact that the Czech police are much more experienced in utilising this option today. Domestic violence has only been a criminal act in the Czech Republic since 2004 and police have been able to bar people from their households since 2007.
The European Commission has threatened to halt all further EU subsidies to the Czech Education Ministry over a lack of transparency and mistakes in public orders. The move would effectively bar the ministry from drawing any more money from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme with a budget of 53 billion crowns. The education minister argues that the mistakes were made before he took office and has promised to set things right within a couple of months.
The lower house of Parliament has started debating a controversial bill on the restitution of church property. The new legislation has backing from coalition MPs but is strongly opposed by the Social Democrats and Communists who have called for a referendum to be held on the issue. If the bill is approved, 17 Czech churches and religious societies will receive 56 percent of the physical property that was confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s worth around 75 billion crowns. For the rest, the churches would receive 59 billion crowns over a period of 30 years.
The Prague city council met for an emergency session on Friday to deal with problems relating to the cold snap. The most serious crisis occurred on the city’s southern motorway where the freeze burst a water pipe and gushing water onto the highway created an ice-rink on a stretch of the road. The road was cleared and traffic was fully restored by the late afternoon. Night time lows reached record highs of close to minus 40 degrees in many parts of the country. Cities are also taking measures to help homeless people. Five people have died of exposure since the arctic temperatures hit.
Charities have come to the aid of needy people left in the lurch by the late distribution of social welfare benefits. A new computer system that was introduced as part of a far-reaching social reform has proved unreliable resulting in the late distribution of social welfare benefits to thousands of people, including families with children. Charities have been providing people in need with emergency aid, distributing packages containing basis food products to help tide them over the next few days. The Labour and Social Ministry is under fire over the scandal and the minister has promised to dismiss those responsible.
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