A Czech Airlines plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Ruzyne Airport after one of the pilots died on board. The plane was bound from Warsaw to Prague when control was alerted to have medics on standby because one of the pilots had collapsed. The plane landed safely and according to an airlines spokeswoman there was no threat to passenger safety. However doctors were unable to help the 55-year-old pilot who was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Police have charged four foreigners with supporting terrorism. It is the first time the Czech police have ever investigated specific individuals on terrorism related charges. The organised crime division believes the men, three Russians and one Moldavian who were detained last year, falsified documents for the radical Dagestani organisation Shariat Jamaat. Police say the suspects made high-quality forgeries that were very difficult to spot and were able to create entirely new identities. If convicted they face up to ten years’ imprisonment.
Fresh overnight snowfall across the Czech Republic has caused considerable travel woes for drivers across much the country, according to the ČTK news agency. Day-time temperatures around zero Celsius in non-highland regions have left roads wet and slippery. Traffic police reported huge pile-ups on the D1, D5 and D8 motorways, all of which had to be closed for several hours in the course of the day. In the Hradec Králové region, snowfall caused a shutdown of the Náchod border crossing to Poland while the road leading from the town of Vrchlabí to the skiing town of Špindlerův Mlýn is only accessible with the use of snow chains on tyres. There are also reports of severe train disruptions on three lines, Tanvald - Harrachov, Mladá Boleslav -Stará Paka and Horní Lideč – Bylnice.
The adverse weather conditions are also putting skiers in the country’s mountain resorts at high risk. A group of German and Dutch tourists got lost in the vicinity of the Spindleruv Mlyn ski resort on Tuesday night after wandering off marked trails in heavy snow and high wind. Fortunately the group of German tourists eventually came across a mountain chalet but the Dutch group were not so lucky. Emergency crews eventually found them chilled, but otherwise unharmed. Both groups were taken to home base. On Wednesday two skiers were reported missing near the Czech-Polish border. Rescue teams from both countries are searching for them.
The cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal for crime victims to get greater protection and assistance from the state. The amendment to the law proposed by the Justice Ministry says crime victims should be offered legal advice, financial aid or short-term protection when necessary. A crime victim would also be able to refuse a direct confrontation with the perpetrator of the crime. At the present time there is no code of conduct specifying how the police or state attorneys should treat crime victims and critics say their conduct often leaves much to be desired.
The cabinet also approved an amendment to the law which would help the police crack down on petty theft. Theft of goods under 5,000 crowns in currently a misdemeanour but under the amendment more than three thefts within a given space of time would be considered a criminal offense. The move targets repeat offenders who steal on a regular basis mainly in the country’s shopping malls and hypermarkets. The amendment, which will now be put to Parliament, would necessitate setting up a central register of these offences.
Czech gross domestic product grew by 1.7 percent last year in annual terms, and Q4 growth reached 0.5 percent, according to the preliminary estimate of the Czech Statistical Office published on Wednesday. GDP declined by 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter and the country was in technical recession since the economy fell for two consecutive quarters. The Czech Finance Ministry recently revised its economic growth outlook for this year from 1 to 0,2 percent while the Czech National Bank said it expects economic stagnation in 2012 and a 1.9 percent GDP growth in 2013.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek went before the Social Affairs Committee of the lower house on Wednesday to explain last month’s serious fallout in dispensing well-fare payments. A new computer system introduced within a far-reaching social reform proved highly unreliable leaving many people in the lurch. Charities even handed out emergency food supplies to those who had no money for basic necessities. The minister came under fire from both coalition and opposition deputies who said the task had clearly been underestimated and ill-managed. Mr. Drabek argued that any new system had teething problems and assured the committee that all problem areas had been resolved. He said he would hand in his resignation should there be a repeat of last month’s problems.
Over 300 students from the Plzen faculty of law on Wednesday staged another protest against the decision of the Czech Accreditation Commission not to extend the accreditation of the law faculty’s undergraduate programme, effectively closing down the school after this autumn. The coordinator of the protest Petra Brezinova expressed grave concern over the fate of the faculty’s 1,500 law students who will now have to conclude their studies in one of the countries three other law faculties. No agreement on how this is to be done has as yet been reached and there are fears that many of them may end up at labour offices in the autumn. The Education Ministry which is not in a position to overturn the verdict of the Accreditation Commission has promised to assist the process of transferring the faculty’s students elsewhere. The outcome of negotiations is expected to be made known at the end of February.
A new poll from the Factum Invenio agency suggests that none of the candidates widely considered to be favourites to succeed incumbent president Václav Klaus would gain a majority in the first round of voting. Klaus’s second term ends in March 2013; the election of his successor will likely be in a new system in which a popular vote, rather than parliament, decides the winner. According to the poll, former independent PM Jan Fischer would gain 24.5% and former Klaus rival, also an independent, Jan Švejnar would receive 14.5%. These two would then face off in a second round of voting. Also making the list are Civic Democrat Lower House chair Miroslava Němcová with 9.7%; businessman Tomio Okamura with 9.2% and current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg with 8.4%.
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