The Czech Republic's first Internet-only newspaper, Aktualne.cz, is expanding into neighbouring Slovakia later this month, on September 19. Aktualne.cz began in November 2005 and registered an average of 140 000 daily hits in its first seven months of existence. With the rapid spread of broadband and wireless access in the Czech Republic, about 3.6 million Czechs (roughly one-third of the population) are regular users of the Internet.
The European Union is asking the Czech Republic and six other EU states to raise the sales tax on beer. The increase would equal about one-fifth of the current tax rate and come into effect sometime between 2008 and 2010. Brussels is suggesting the change because EU analysts say that beer prices have not been affected by general inflation in recent years, and experts say higher prices are also a way to combat alcoholism. Czech brewery owners are opposed to the proposal.
Units from the anti-corruption police division arrested Petr Smetka in Prague mid-day Friday, on the basis of a court order. Mr. Smetka was transported to Pankrac prison where he begins serving a 12-year sentence for his role in an embezzling scheme. According to the Prague Municipal Court, the extraordinary order to have Mr. Smetka taken into custody came after he disobeyed a June court ruling, preventing him from accessing assets set aside to compensate clients who lost money when H - System, a construction company that Mr. Smetka founded, went under. At least 1095 people lost a total of over 980 million crowns (nearly $44 million US) in the fraud scheme.
A new internet game called Total Burnout of Lidice has appeared in a second variation. The original game was created by ad agency McCann Erickson as an educational tool, to interest young people in the Nazi WWII era destruction of Lidice, a village in central Bohemia; the original game which links website visitors to the Lidice memorial website received approval from the head of the Lidice memorial, Milous Cervencl. But the new, pirated release involves killing, and Mr. Cervencl says that he regrets that good intentions can be twisted in such cruel ways. The creators of the pirated game remain anonymous.
The Prague districts of Zizkov, Vinohrady and a portion of Prague 1 was left without electricity on Friday morning, when four transformers failed at 10:36am. The electrical failure left trams in Zizkov standing, and the metro was also affected for a short time. Experts agree that a technical failure is to blame.
A division responsible for investigating cases of corruption is working on a case involving members of the company VAE, which was co-owned by Mirek Topolanek, the newly-appointed Czech Prime Minister. At issue is a 1999 First City Bank loan worth 67 million crowns (over $3 million US), which was not repaid in its entirety. VAE thus has an outstanding debt and a criminal investigation is underway. Mr. Topolanek said that the investigation does not concern him directly.
American pop star Madonna has wrapped-up her stay in Prague with a second sell-out concert at Sazka Arena on Thursday night. The daily Pravo reports that former Czech president Vaclav Havel and his stepdaughter Nina were the only people from outside of Madonna's immediate circle to partake in the star's traditional pre-concert prayer before the opening show on Wednesday. Mr Havel's spokesman said he was moved by the prayer service, and did not find the concert performance offensive. Madonna has been heavily criticized by Christian groups for symbolism used in her 'Confessions Tour' show.
Tomas Berdych, Jiri Novak, Martin Damm and Jan Hernych were named on Thursday to play in the Czech Republic's Davis Cup world group clash with the Netherlands from September 22-24. Novak, 31, was a surprise inclusion after missing six months to May this year due to an ankle injury. At the time of his injury he had considered retiring from the sport but he proved at the US Open he was back to his best, reaching the fourth round where he lost to world number two Rafael Nadal on Monday. One player not fit to make the team, though, was Radek Stepanek, who has an injured back.
Prime Minister and Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek has said that Czech foreign policy will not be influenced by the fact that the government seeks only a limited mandate due to the complex situation on the domestic political scene. Addressing Czech ambassadors who are meeting in Prague, the new Prime Minister said that the country's first priority was its presidency of the European Union in spring 2009. He said he hoped that Romania and Bulgaria will join the EU in January as planned, adding that the Czech government will pay special attention to the accession talks with Turkey and Croatia. Mr Topolanek also mentioned the possible stationing of a US anti-missile defence site in the Czech Republic. The issue became a point of controversy on the Czech political scene, as the leftist Social Democrats of former PM Jiri Paroubek oppose it, while the Civic Democrats have recently expressed support for the base.