Prime Minister Petr Nečas says the government will suspend ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Responding to a wave of protests at in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, the Prime Minister said that the government would not allow a situation where civic freedoms and free access to information would be threatened and added that the government will still analyse the issue and its potential impact on daily life. In recent days, Internet activists have blocked the websites of the Czech government, the copyright protection association and the Chamber of Deputies to protest the agreement. The aim of ACTA, which the Czech Republic joined in January, is to combat the spread of counterfeit goods and internet piracy. It must still be ratified by the Czech Parliament in order to take effect.
Hackers using the moniker Anonymous published the personal information of thousands of members of the Civic Democratic Party on Monday to protest the party’s support for ACTA. A list including the names and addresses of nearly 30,000 members was sent to media outlets along with a message for Czech politicians to reject the agreement. Hackers attacked the Civic Democrat homepage last Thursday and were incensed by the party’s spokesman having said it was a good advertisement. The new attack asks how the party can be capable of running the country when it is unable to secure its own IT system.
Mr Nečas also told reporters on Monday that he expects a series of coalition meetings regarding a compromise on the EU budget pact, and said that there would be no dramatic result from his meeting with Karel Schwarzenberg on Tuesday. The two party heads have been sharply at odds in recent weeks over the PM’s resistance to the agreement, which is aimed at establishing tighter fiscal discipline across the EU and was signed by all member states except the Czech Republic and the UK. Mr Schwarzenberg strongly rejected the Prime Minister’s statement that the pact is not in the Czech Republic’s interests and has previously said he would not be part of any government that moved the country away from the EU mainstream.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš says he has received no information that the Czech Republic will have EU education grants revoked. Speaking at a press conference on Monday to address the issue, Mr Dobeš repeated a pledge to resign if the problems with the subsidies are not resolved. Last week the press reported that the European Commission had threatened to halt all further subsidies to the Education Ministry due to a lack of transparency and mistakes in public orders, effectively barring the ministry from drawing on 53 billion crowns. The education minister argues that the mistakes were made before he took office and has promised to fix the situation by the end of March.
Health Minister Leoš Heger intends to propose the merger of his ministry with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Dr Heger told the daily Lidové noviny that the idea emerged after the cabinet was asked to find programmes in their ministries that could be cancelled. A number of issues, such as long-term health care, are handled by both ministries which complicates communication among officials. Prime Minister Petr Nečas has said he is theoretically in favour of the plan however the finance and labour ministers have doubted whether it will actually happen. Mr Nečas has long been in favour of doing away with the Ministry of Regional Development.
The number of cases of child harassment on the internet is increasing, according to the Children’s Crisis Centre. The organisation says that calls to its hotline regarding cyber-bullying and other inappropriate behaviour in online chat rooms have increased nine-fold over the last five years. More children have also reported physical abuse by someone they met online. Last year the hotline took 231 calls regarding internet-related abuse.
Law students at West Bohemian University have filed a constitutional complaint regarding the cancellation of the school’s undergraduate law programme. A commission decided not to extend the faculty’s accreditation last Wednesday, effectively closing the school down and leaving 1,600 undergraduate students to complete their studies elsewhere. The university management wants to overturn the decision and intends to meet with Education Minister Dobeš.
The news site Czech Position reports that the Prague transit authority spent nearly two million crowns on ten LCD televisions in 2006, or seven times their actual price. The order was handled by the company Xanthus, which is allegedly linked to a member of the authority’s supervisory board who was dismissed on Monday. Xanthus says the televisions were not overpriced as they were specially equipped, however the Czech Position says the contract mentions no such equipment. The site also reports that a related criminal complaint was dismissed by the police.
Police say Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip did not commit a crime by sending condolences to North Korea upon the death of Kim Jong-il. Mr Filip says the actual letter was worded differently than the media suggested, and noted that similar condolences had been sent by world leaders. The Czech press cited Mr Filip as saying Kim Jong-il had sacrificed himself for the well-being of the people of North Korea, and praising the North Korean communist party for a heroic struggle in defence of socialism.
Arctic temperatures are expected to last for another two weeks, or until around February 20, the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute has announced. In South Bohemia meteorologists measured -39.4° Celsius on Monday morning, the lowest temperature this year, on par with the average January temperature in the interior of Greenland. The deep freeze has affected railway operation in particular, with freezing diesel oil and cracked rails reported. The frost wave has claimed 17 lives in the country in the past week, namely homeless people; a number of towns have erected special shelters for the homeless and are providing additional services.
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