Forty of the world’s top athletes, including Czech runner Jakub Holuša, have signed a petition calling for a free Tibet. In a public appeal to President Hu Jintao they urge a peaceful and democratic solution to the situation in Tibet, the release of all prisoners of conscience and respect for human rights. Twenty-year-old Jakub Holuša, who is Europe’s junior champion in the 3,000 metres steeplechase, said the appeal was in line with what the Olympic Games represented.
The Czech human rights organization Olympic Watch has appealed to all athletes taking part in the 2008 Olympics to support freedom and democracy in China, urging athletes to adopt a given prisoner of conscience and raise awareness of their fate. The Chinese regime refuses to link the games with human rights issues and has taken a tough line with protesters. Several people have been arrested and extradited for unfurling banners calling for human rights and freedoms.
The Czech health authorities have warned of a heightened number of hepatitis A cases across the country. In the first seven months of this year the Health Ministry registered 130 patients with the disease, which is more than they had in the whole of 2007. Sixty-two hepatitis A cases were reported in the month of July alone. The illness is spreading mainly among drug addicts and the homeless and the majority of cases reported are in Prague, where the public has been warned not to underestimate the risk of infection. Vaccination of high risk groups is currently underway, but experts say it will be a while before the effects of that are felt.
The Czech National Bank has moved to cut its key short-term interest rate by a quarter of a point, to 3.50 percent, a bank spokeswoman said. The bank’s board decided to cut its refinancing rate for 15-day operations to 3.50 percent, the discount rate to 2.50 percent and the Lombard rate to 4.50 percent. It was the first cut in the bank's key rate since April 2005. Experts say the reduction was motivated by the strong crown.
Czech military pilots who are to operate in Afghanistan next year, will undergo special training in the French Pyrenees in September, a Defence Ministry spokesperson told the CTK news agency. In recent weeks there has been speculation that the pilots do not feel well prepared for the mission and that they are concerned about insufficiently upgraded helicopters. According to the Defence Ministry the helicopters should be upgraded by the end of this year. Afterwards, the soldiers will have a few months to test them in mountainous terrain. They should be ready to go on their mission in the second half of 2009, if it is approved by the government and Parliament.
A seven-year-old girl from Ostrava, in Moravia, has died after eating a meal of poisonous mushrooms. A hospital spokesperson said the child had been brought in suffering from severe stomach pains and that despite intensive treatment doctors had been unable to save her life. Mushroom picking is a popular summer pastime in the Czech Republic and millions of Czechs pick wild mushrooms in the forest rather than shopping for them in the supermarket. Despite repeated warnings of the dangers, several people die of mushroom poisoning every year.
Officers in Prague have collected 300,000 crowns in fines for alcohol consumption in public places where drinking is now off-limits. An alcohol ban was introduced in several parts of the city centre at the beginning of July of this year within the City Hall’s drive to make Prague a cleaner and safer city for both locals and tourists.
Members of Prague’s Town Council have voted to approve the abolition of Prague’s Masaryk train station located in the centre of Prague. Trains will be diverted in the future to the city’s Main Station or Hlavní Nádraží, while plans are afoot to possibly convert the site into a shopping centre, with assurances that the shell of the historic station will be preserved. However, the plans remain controversial - a recent online poll conducted by the newspaper Právo found that almost 84 percent of respondents want the site to remain as a train station. The company ING Real Estate Development has been awarded a contract to alter the site. Meanwhile, other stations are also expecting major renovations – work at the city’s Main Station is already underway.
Despite recent storms in some parts of the country, scientists are warning of dangerously low groundwater levels across the country. River levels are falling and wells are drying up, according to the Czech Hydrological Institute. New figures presented by the institute suggest that water levels are at anywhere between 60 to 20 percent of normal levels, with smaller streams faring worst. River systems, such as the Berounka, Litavka and Sázava are believed to be in the worst condition with significantly reduced water flows. In some places, once deep rivers can now be crossed on foot, warns the Institute. Changing weather patterns are believed to be the cause of the problem, with short bursts of rain insufficient to replenish water levels. Mild winters are also believed to have played a role. According to scientists, the country would need a prolonged period of around 3cm per day precipitation in order for water levels to begin to recover.