The government has approved a bill that will allow citizens to call referenda on the basis of petitions. If approved by Parliament, a general referendum could be called by obtaining 250,000 signatures or by the government. The bill would allow citizens to vote on domestic or international issues that exceed the term of office of one government. They could not be used to decide on the appointment or dismissal of individual officials, tax issues or judicial rulings. Passage of the bill requires a constitutional majority, for which the coalition will need opposition support. The opposition Social Democratic Party has voiced disagreement with various aspects of the legislation, such as the 50% turnout requirement needed for decisions made in referenda to take effect.
The civic initiative pushing for public referenda has criticised the government’s legislation, saying it leaves the decision-making in the hands of the governing majority. The ProAlt movement told a meeting of the Senate’s constitutional law committee that the bill was a shameful assault on democracy. The committee’s deputy chair, Social Democrat Jiří Dienstbier, also called the bill a travesty and said that the government’s proposal was actually aimed at preventing any referendum from taking place. His criticism was not included in the committee’s recommendations, however. The ProAlt movement is a civic initiative aimed at contesting the government’s reform plans with alternative policies.
Interior Minister Jan Kubice has rejected a call from the opposition to resign over family connections to lobbyist Roman Janoušek. Mr Kubice denied any personal responsibility for the bungling of Mr Janoušek's arrest last week, noting that he would only be in office for two hours if he took responsibility for every officer's mistake. Kubice's son-in-law is a lawyer for Mr Janoušek, who was charged with intentional bodily harm under the influence of alcohol last week - that amid a major lobbying scandal involving his influence on Prague City Hall. Additionally, the father-in-law of the interior minister's son heads a company linked to the scandal. Mr Kubice said the relationships had been public knowledge since he took office and said he would in no way influence the investigation.
Police unions have lent their support to Prague Police Chief Martin Vondrášek over the arrest of Roman Janoušek. Police President Petr Lessy on Tuesday called for Mr Vondrášek to take personal responsibility for numerous mistakes made in the lobbyist’s arrest, namely that he was released while intoxicated and allowed to make telephone calls. In a petition released by the unions, policemen and civilian employees say that Vondrášek is a capable and honest policeman and that the Prague police is resistant to political and lobbying influences under his command. Mr Vondrášek says he will only consider resigning after an investigation shows whether the mistakes in the arrest were caused by systemic or individual problems.
Leading Slovak broadsheet SME placed blame for corruption in the Czech Republic squarely on the shoulders of Czech President Václav Klaus on Wednesday, writing that no one else had made such a grand contribution to corruption and cronyism in Czech politics. The paper tore into the president’s recent statement that wiretapping destroys democracy, saying it was typical of him that he was not bothered by the privatisation of political power by lobbyists and mafia members, but by the fact that the public had received evidence of it. SME goes on to recap trends in Mr Klaus’ preference for shady amassment of power among elite politicians and “godfathers”, and says the survival of the Czech right depends on its ridding itself of President Klaus.
Police will form a special riot unit in the restive Šluknov area of Northern Bohemia in April, Police President Petr Lessy has announced. After meeting with the governor of the region on Wednesday, Mr Lessy said the unit would consist of 50 officers and would gradually be increased to 180. Police began considering forming the unit last year after a series of violent incidents and anti-Romany demonstrations in the area. Last week the police said new budget cuts meant that the plan would not be possible, however the Interior Ministry responded that the police should save the money elsewhere and establish the special unit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she does not expect a Czech affirmation of the EU fiscal pact at her meeting with Prime Minister Nešas in Prague next week. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told the Czech Press Agency that the leaders will discuss "big European challenges", but that Germany respects the Czech reticence to the pact. The Czech Republic and Britain are the only two EU members that have not yet signed up to the pact, which binds the countries´ governments to observe balanced or surplus state budgets or face automatic sanctions.
Fugitive Czech financier Viktor Kožený says he is "very satisfied" with the British Privy Council's decision that he not be extradited from the Bahamas to the USA where he faces bribery charges. He told the Czech Press Agency on Wednesday that he believed the decision would eventually put an end to his case and hoped that one day he would return to the Czech Republic. The Privy Council, a final appeals court in some former British colonies, including the Bahamas, rejected a U.S. appeal for Kožený’s extradition this week. U.S. authorities suspect Kožený of large-scale bribery within the Azeri oil industry privatisation over a decade ago. U.S. investors then invested 350 million dollars in the operation aimed at gaining a stake in the Socar oil company. Azerbaijan, however, finally did not sell it and the investments became worthless.
American State Department undersecretary Philip Gordon has suggested sharing regional military forces as a way to deal with ongoing defence cuts. Speaking in Prague in the fourth round of a “strategy dialogue” between the United States and the Czech Republic, Mr Gordon said that regional groups of countries, such as the Visegrad Four, could share aircraft for example. Collective defence, he said, and the sharing of military capacities will be one of the themes of the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.
Outgoing Education Minister Josef Dobeš has said it will be up to his successor whether to accept new students at the troubled Plzeň law school. The name of his replacement, he said, should be known by next week. A commission refused to extend the school‘s accreditation for poor quality, leaving hundreds of students in the lurch. Mr Dobeš however controversially circumvented the decision and extended the accreditation until 2016, a decision for which he may yet face criminal complaints.
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