The Czech Senate on Wednesday approved an amendment to the country's constitution introducing direct presidential elections. Many Senators for the Social Democrat party, which enjoys a majority in the upper house of Parliament, spoke against the bill which was put forth by the centre-right Czech government; however, 49 out of 81 Senators voted in favour of the new legislation. If signed into law by President Václav Klaus, the bill will allow Czechs to elect their president directly for the first time next year when Mr Klaus' second term expires. Among those who said that they would consider running for the president is Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, former prime minister Jan Fischer and economist Jan Švejnar.
After years of debates, Czech MPs on Wednesday voted to limit the law on parliamentary immunity. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, the amendment to the Czech constitution will remove lawmakers’ immunity for life and will only cover their terms in Parliament. However, lawmakers will still have a choice whether any minor offences they commit will be dealt with by the authorities or by the respective committee of the house. A sweeping majority of MPs from across the parties voted for the change that will now be put to the vote in the Senate. Legislators will need to accordingly amend the Czech penal code before the legislation enters into force in January 2013.
The Czech Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution recommending that the Czech Republic join the EU’s fiscal compact. The resolution, which has no binding power, was passed with votes of opposition Social Democrats. Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, PM Petr Nečas addressed the Senate to explain the reasoning that led him to stay out of the treaty. However, the majority of senators remained unconvinced saying that his decision went against the country’s interests.
In a ballot vote, Czech Senators also rejected the president’s nominee for the Constitutional Court, Jan Sváček, over his past membership in the totalitarian Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Mr Sváček, who serves as Chief Justice of the Prague Municipal Court, joined the party in June 1989, just months before communism collapsed in the country. He has also been an advisor to President Václav Klaus since his election in 2003. In his appearance in the Senate, Justice Sváček argued he had to join the party in order to be able to become a judge; the Senators however remained unconvinced and refused to approve the nomination.
The Czech Republic’s unemployment rate in January rose to 9.1 percent, up by 0.5 percent from the previous month, according to figures released on Wednesday by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The jobless rate crossed the 9 percent mark for the first time since March last year. However, most analysts expected an even higher surge. The Jeseník district in the north-east of the country registered the highest unemployment rate of 17.8 percent; the lowest, of 3.4 percent was recorded in one of the capital districts.
Some 14 percent of Czechs are at risk of poverty and social exclusion which is the lowest share of all EU nations, according to a report by the Union’s statistics body, Eurostat. The figures are based on numbers of households whose income is below 60 percent of the national average. The list is topped by Bulgaria and Romania. The Czech Republic, along with Sweden and Luxembourg, also has the lowest share of people living at “very low work intensity homes”, that is homes where adults work less than 20 percent of their potential.
The police on Wednesday morning evacuated the Czech Republic’s air traffic control centre in Jeneč, on the western outskirts of Prague, over what turned out to be a toolbox, a police spokeswoman said. Dozens of the centre’ administrative staffers had to leave the building; however, air traffic controllers remained at the workplace and the incident had no effect on the safety of air traffic over the country, a spokesman for the agency said.
Czech MEP Jan Březina on Wednesday quit the Christian Democrat party citing persisting disputes. Mr Březina, who was twice elected to the European Parliament on a Christian Democrat ballot, said the party had failed to draw conclusion from its defeat in the 2010 general elections which left her outside the Czech lower house. He is reportedly considering running for the conservative TOP 09 party in the Czech regional elections this year. In a statement, Mr Březina said he would remain a member of the European People’s Party.
An appellate court in Prague on Wednesday upheld a 16-year sentence for a US citizen living in the Czech Republic who last February killed a man after a bar row. The incident was sparked by an argument that broke out between the 53-year-old American, Gilbert Ferguson McRae and his victim, a 34-year-old Czech man. The US citizen later followed the man out of the bar and onto a tram where he later shot him in the head with a handgun. Mr McCrae’s attorney said his client would fight the verdict before the Supreme Court as he believed he had been denied a fair trial.
Barbora Škrlová, who was in 2008 sentenced to five years in prison for her role in the Kuřim child abuse case, was on Wednesday conditionally released from jail. Her parole was set at seven years. Ms Škrlová was found guilty of abusing two brothers, aged eight and ten at the time, along with five other people including the boys’ mother. The 30-year-old woman originally duped the authorities posing as a teenage girl; she later escaped to Norway where she posed as a 13-year-old boy. She was arrested upon her return to the Czech Republic.
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