The Public Affairs party leadership has decided to elect a new chairman after de facto leader Vít Bárta was convicted of corruption of Friday. Current chairman Radek John said he would call a party conference by the end of May and would only put himself forward in the absence of a candidate with a better project. Deputy chair Karolína Peake, who has assumed a leading role in the party in the wake of numerous scandals over the last year, has said she would be in the running for the post. Mr Bárta, who is understood to be the primary decision maker in Public Affairs, suspended his membership on Friday after being sentenced to 18 months of probation for offering MPs personal loans to sway their opinions. The meeting of the leadership also agreed it would put forward a candidate for Minister of Education next week.
In an interview for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, recently-resigned education minister Josef Dobeš said that Public Affairs was a dead party that could not hope for a recovery. Dobeš, who publicly withdrew his membership from Public Affairs last week, said there was no crisis to speak of because the party was already finished and could expect nothing more than local representation in the near future. Its credit as an anti-corruption party was exhausted, he said, adding that while the party itself was not corrupt, its image had become comic. He also said that he felt sorry for Vít Bárta, who had lost everything and without whom it would be impossible to keep the party together.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas will be visiting Albania and Macedonia at the beginning of the week to meet with his counterparts Sali Berisha of Albania and Nikola Gruevský of Macedonia. He be accompanied by a delegation of businessmen and representatives of Czech companies, including energy giant ČEZ, to discuss economic relations. According to the Czech Press Agency Albania in particular is interested in Czech involvement in the hotel, mining and costal restoration industries.
Pirate Parties from around the world are meeting in Prague at the weekend for a two day conference. Speakers will include the founder of the movement Rick Falkvinge and Swedish Euro MP Amelia Andersdotter. The themes of the conference include cooperating on preparation for elections to the European Parliament, which will take place in 2014. Pirate Parties, of which there are around 60 around the globe, have recently drawn attention for their opposition to the anti-counterfeiting treaty ACTA. Their primary platform is combating what they see as unfair copyright regulations.
Independent presidential candidate Jan Fischer would receive nearly one-third of the vote in direct elections according to a poll conducted by the Median agency. The survey put the former head of the 2009 caretaker government at 31.5% in the first round, more than 12 points ahead of his nearest rival, economist Jan Švejcar, who ran unsuccessfully against President Václav Klaus in 2008. The poll also suggested high voter turnout, with 72% saying they would cast a ballot. Former prime minister Miloš Zeman, previously a Social Democrat and now honorary chairman of the extra-parliamentary Party of Citizens' Rights of Milos Zeman (SPOZ), is placed third with support from 10% of the respondents.
The Czech Republic's deficit of foreign trade in food has more than doubled since the year 2000 to almost 37 billion crowns. The Czech Statistical Office puts the rise down primarily to sharply growing imports of meat from the European Union. According to a CSU analysis published on its website, Czech foreign trade in food posted a record-high deficit of 40 billion in 2010. The value of food imported to the Czech Republic amounted to 131.2 billion last year; in contrast the value of exported food was 94.4 billion. The largest amount of food was imported from Germany and Poland last year.
Almost two dozen old Soviet mines were found in a creek near the North Bohemian town of Česká Lipa. Firemen were notified of 13 mines Friday evening and minesweepers found another eight. The devices were used for training and thus lacked triggers; experts say however that even these are dangerous, as Soviet mines were often improperly marked for training purposes. The area lies at the edge of the former Ralsko military base. A similar find of unexploded munitions last year stall the construction of a local water treatment facility.
The Prague Writers’ Festival 2012 kicks off in the Czech capital on Saturday. Among the guests of the 22nd edition of the international literature festival are the British screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi, American poet Jerome Rothenberg and Turkish writer and psychologist Gündüz Vassaf. The festival’s opening gala, where the Spiros Vergos Prize for Freedom of Expression will be awarded takes place on Sunday. On the program are film screenings, discussion panels, literary readings as well as jazz and poetry performances. The festival runs for five days, through April 18.
A Prague district court found de facto head of the Public Affairs party Vít Bárta guilty of bribery, handing him an 18-month suspended sentence on Friday. Fellow MP and former Public Affairs member Jaroslav Škárka was found guilty of fraud and received a sentence of three years in prison as well as a 10-year ban as an MP. The court ruled Jaroslav Škárka had intentionally accepted a loan of 170,000 crowns from Mr Bárta in order to try and discredit him. On Thursday, Vít Bárta – who was accused of giving fellow party members hefty bribes in the form of interest-free loans in order to increase his influence – said he would leave high politics if convicted. Friday’s court ruling can still be appealed.
In related news, fellow politicians – including the prime minister – made clear that both Mr Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka should give up their mandates in the Chamber of Deputies. Following Friday’s ruling, the de facto head of Public Affairs confirmed that he would resign as head of Public Affairs’ deputies’ club and would give up his party membership. He remained silent, however, on giving up his post as an MP. Whether Mr Škárka will give up his post in the Chamber of Deputies also remains unclear: the defendant told reporters after the ruling that he would appeal, so decision no is expected yet. The head of the lower house, Miroslava Němcová, meanwhile, confirmed on Friday she was planning to put forward proposed changes which would broaden the criteria for the dissolution of parliamentary mandates.
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