An international conference aimed at tackling the problem of acid rain got underway in Prague on Monday. The chairman of the conference's executive committee, Mr Jakub Hruska, said in an interview that acid rain continues to destroy Czech forests. Spruce trees growing in the Czech mountains were most at risk, he said. Sulphur emissions have declined significantly over the past 15 years, as the country has moved away from the use of brown coal towards cleaner energy sources. But Mr Hruska said that trees and other plants were still under threat from high levels of nitrogen, a result of increased motor vehicle traffic nationwide.
And speaking of taxes, the main opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) will reportedly downplay its proposal for a 15 percent flat tax in the 2006 general elections. An unmanned party source told the Pravo daily that the ruling Social Democrat's "demagogic" arguments against the flat tax as beneficial only to the wealthy were difficult to defend against. The centre-right Civic Democrats have argued that imposing a flat tax would dramatically increase foreign direct investment (FDI) and encourage more people to report their income.
A new opinion poll taken following the rejection of the draft European Constitution by French and Dutch voters has shown that the majority of Czechs now opposed to adopting the document. A poll of 2300 people conducted for the daily Mlada fronta Dnes by the SC&C agency shows only 19 percent of Czechs in favour of adopting the draft EU constitution. Prior to the French and Dutch results, most opinion polls showed over 50 percent of Czech in favour of it. The new SC&C poll predicts that 29 percent of Czechs would vote against the EU constitution in a referendum and turnout would be low.
In other news, as of Tuesday this week, Czech taxpayers stop 'working for the government' and begin earning for themselves. This year, Tax Freedom Day arrives on the 14th of June, two days earlier than it did in 2004. By this measure, Czech taxpayers will spend 165 days of this year making money for public budgets and then 201 days earning for themselves. The date is calculated in large part by comparing the ratio between total tax revenues and net national incomes. The overall burden on the Czech taxpayer has increased in recent years. When first introduced in the Czech Republic in the year 2000, Tax Freedom Day came eight days earlier, on the 6th of June.
Seven people were injured by a drunk driver who crashed into a refreshments stall at a tuning party on Saturday night. The driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle and witnesses say he unexpectedly swerved into a crowd of people standing around a refreshments stall. Three people were flown to hospital by helicopter with serious injuries. The others suffered concussion and bruises. The driver has been charged and could face up to three years in prison for drinking and driving and causing grievous bodily harm.
A 46 year old woman priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church has gone on hunger strike to protest against alleged undemocratic practices within the Church. Milena Tomesova claims that the church management is blinded by power and ambition and that this clique rules the Czechoslovak Hussite Church with an iron hand and censorship. The church patriarch Jan Schwarz is likewise at war with the management after pointing out to the media that some Hussite churches were demanding fees for christenings and other church ceremonies, which was he said totally unacceptable. The church management is refusing to communicate with the press.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has called on Social Democratic Party MPs to support a bill on same sex registered partnerships which will be presented to parliament next week. The bill which would enable gays and lesbians to enter into a form of marriage has been rejected by Parliament several times in the past, failing to get approved by just one vote on the previous occasion. Although opinion surveys suggest that the public is liberal minded with respect to homosexuals and would support gay marriages, the Christian Democratic Party remains strongly opposed. Likewise some deputies for the Civic Democratic Party and the Communists claim that registered same sex partnerships would undermine the institution of marriage in society.
A 29 year old woman has admitted to killing her boyfriend and chopping him into pieces with a saw, a police spokeswoman said. The murdered man's body parts wrapped in plastic bags, were found by road workers scattered in several locations along a main road near the town of Klatovy. The woman admitted to having committed the murder a fortnight ago but the police say the motive of the crime remains unclear. It could be a disagreement over money or infidelity, a police spokeswoman said.
The Czech Communist party is against the ratification of the EU Constitution in its present form. A meeting of the party's executive committee concluded that following the French and Dutch rejections of the treaty and Britain's decision to shelve its referendum, continuing with plans for ratification was no longer meaningful. The other opposition party on the Czech political scene, the right wing Civic Democrats, have expressed a similar opinion, saying that the treaty was dead and there was no point in wasting time and money on it.
A new witness has appeared in the Koristka bribery case in which the governing coalition accused the opposition of trying to bribe one of the coalition's MPs with the intention of bringing down the government. The case was recently shelved for lack of evidence. Ladislav Sommer, a 58 year old former journalist and writer, has now come forward to say that while sitting in a café in Ostrava he had overheard two men offering Freedom Union deputy Zdenek Koristka 10 million crowns and a promising career in exchange for voting against the coalition government in a planned no-confidence vote. He said he could identify the two men as Vecerek and Dalik, a lobbyist and adviser to the opposition Civic Democrats. The Civic Democrats say this is a smear campaign against them and point out that if this were true Sommer should have come forward while the case was still open. Police are investigating the claims.