A key labour union in the Czech Republic with more than half a million members has announced that from April 14, it will undertake what it describes as a “month of disruption”. The Czech-Moravian Association of Trade Unions are planning a series of demonstrations and have also threatened strike action, in protest at government reforms, which they blame for rising inflation levels in the country. Specifically, they oppose wide-scale reforms to healthcare and pensions proposed by the government. The news follows a tense meeting between union members and the Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek in early April.
Police and transport specialists have reconstructed events which led to a tram crash that occurred in the northeastern Czech city of Ostrava on Friday. The head-on collision, which claimed three lives, occurred on a single track used for trams going in both directions. Monday’s reconstruction was undertaken in order to find out the precise circumstances behind the accident. Czech police have confirmed that the investigation into the incident may take several months. At present, human error on the part of one of the drivers – both of whom survived the crash - is being seen as the most likely cause.
Former Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has continued to come under media scrutiny for the purchase of a luxury apartment near Miami, Florida. Czech newspapers have been looking into the apartment complex, called Hidden Bay which boasts 24 hour security and high fences. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes has estimated the flat to be worth 12 million crowns - or more than 800,000 US dollars. Mr. Gross was forced to stand down as the country’s Prime Minister in 2005 partly as a result of an inability to explain where he got 1.2 million crowns to purchase a luxury flat in the Czech capital.
Newly released figures suggest that last year the Czech Republic saw record levels of immigration with around 84,000 people moving into the country. An academic study from Charles University also suggests that the country has become the number one destination for immigration among post-communist European states. Some figures estimate that with an ageing populace, up to a third of the Czech population may comprise of immigrants by 2065, with people from Ukraine, Vietnam and China forming the largest immigrant communities. Recent government initiatives have been designed to make immigration into the country easier.
On Monday morning, the Czech crown broke a new record, exchanging at a rate of 23 crowns for 1 Euro. Although this is considered to be something of a blip, the underlying strength of the Czech crown has been a key issue in recent months and even years – at the same point last year, the rate was 28 crowns to the Euro. Although a strong crown favors Czechs traveling abroad, but has a detrimental effect on Czech exporters in Europe, who find that they get fewer Euro for exporting the same amount. The Czech government has long promised to take measures to avoid a further strengthening of the currency, said to partly be the result of market speculation and increasing Czech overseas investment.
In Ostrava, a special anti-drug police unit known as “Toxi” has broken up one of the biggest pervitin producing networks in the country. Czech police made the announcement Monday. The group, which is said to have made as much as a million crowns, was reportedly under surveillance from last September, allegedly making around 50,000 crowns worth of pervitin a day. The drugs were then sold on to dealers throughout the region. The abuse of pervitin or methamphetamine has been on a rise in the Czech Republic.
The Czech police have arrested an employee of the Prague 1 town council over suspected foul play, which led to the loss of around 50 million crowns. The police believe that an organized plot enabled the missing money to be transferred to somewhere other than its intended destination, the Swedish construction company Skanska. Instead, the money was channeled to a company in Lithuania. So far, only 5.5 million crowns of the money has been recovered.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas said on Sunday that the government coalition would further discuss plans to site a US radar on Czech soil before bringing any bill to parliament. In an interview with Czech Television, Mr Nečas said that further negotiation was needed with the Civic Democrat’s coalition partners to maximize the bill’s chances of success. On the same programme, a member of the coalition, Green MP Olga Zubová, said that she did not agree with the construction of the base under the current conditions, and would not be supporting the bill. The government needs a majority in the Lower House – 101 votes – to pass the bill. It currently has less than this number of votes pledged, with two Green MPs, and Christian Democrat Ludvík Hovorka having serious doubts about which way to vote, and Social Democrat defectors Miloš Melčák and Michal Pohanka also reticent to approve the base.
Head of the Czech Green Party Martin Bursík has said that the European Green Party has softened its stance on the construction of a US anti-missile defence shield on Czech soil. At a meeting of Green Party MPs from around the continent in Slovenia on Sunday, a resolution leaving the final decision on the US radar up to the Czech Green Party was passed with a massive majority. The Dutch Green party had originally drafted a proposal which rejected the project unconditionally, but this proposal was amended by the Czech Greens present at the session. The decision is now up to them, but the party remains divided on the issue, with Mr Bursík and senior MP Kateřina Jacques for the construction of a US radar, and deputy Olga Zubová telling Czech Television on Sunday that she could not vote for such a base.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called for greater cooperation between Czech and Brazilian investors during a visit to the Czech Republic largely aimed to promote trade. In a joint press conference with his Czech counterpart Václav Klaus on Saturday, Lula called upon Czech businessmen to visit Brazil more frequently, and said that Brazilian entrepreneurs should set out to familiarize themselves with the Czech economy. Brazil is Prague’s top Latin American trading partner, with Brazilian exports of mostly agricultural goods in 2007 totaling six billion crowns (380 million USD).