Half of Czechs believe that President Václav Klaus is damaging the image of the Czech Republic, according to a new poll. The poll released by STEM also reveals that three-quarters of those polled believe that the Czech president should not present his own personal views whilst abroad. As a ceremonial and apolitical head of state, Mr Klaus is tasked with representing the Czech government and its people whilst overseas, but much to the chagrin of critics, the Czech president has rarely shied away from expressing his own often controversial views ranging from subjects such as Europe and climate change. Recently, Mr Klaus sparked controversy by meeting with a vocal opponent of the Lisbon Treaty while on an official visit to Ireland.
A gas explosion in a street near the centre of the town of Hradec Králové has caused one death and six injuries, according to reports. The incident occurred in a residential home in the early hours of Sunday morning. The explosion is said to have been so powerful that neighbouring windows in the area were blasted out of their frames. Police and fire services soon arrived at the scene, and soon discovered the body of a thirty-three-year-old woman in the wreckage. After a search of the five-storey apartment, police also found six injured, including three children. A sixty year-old man injured in the explosion is said to be in a serious condition. The precise cause of the explosion, believed to have been caused by a gas leak, remains unclear.
More than five hundred new police cars unveiled in the city of Brno have been found to have incorrect signage. In an investigation undertaken by Prima television, 580 new police cars unveiled during a ceremony on Friday attended by the Interior Minister Ivan Langer were found to have an incorrect police seal logo on the hood of the cars. The error is a minor one; the centre of the police seal features leaves coloured blue, and not the correct green colour. Nonethless, Škoda Mladá Boleslav, the maker of the cars will be forced to correct the logo, at an estimated cost of around one and a half million crowns. In total, Škoda is set to make 3500 new police cars for the Czech police service by 2011 at a cost of more than 1.3 billion crowns.
Five hour talks on Saturday between representatives of the governing coalition parties designed to address differences over health care reforms have ended with little progress. The talks, attended by representatives of the three coalition parties – the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens, were held without the presence of the Health Minister Tomáš Julínek. Ultimately, only two notably less contentious out of four proposed health reform laws were agreed upon by those attending. The two outstanding proposals deal with health insurance and the provision of health related services, with divisions mainly centering over the inclusion of various fees for services proposed and in some cases already passed by the government. The Greens and Christian Democrats have increasingly voiced opposition to the impression of a health system that is not guaranteed to all Czechs, and which depends on the patients’ ability to pay for services. The Christian Democrats have also proposed that controversial doctor’s visitation fees go not to the doctor’s surgeries, but are paid to health insurance providers instead. Health Minister Tomáš Julínek later responded to this proposal by accusing the Christian Democrats of blocking an agreement. Healthcare reforms are an increasingly sensitive issue for the often fractious coalition.
On Monday, the US will no longer require Czech citizens to apply for a visa prior to travel. Interior Minister Ivan Langer and deputy premier Alexander Vondra are set to be among the first to make use of the change in status, according to newspaper reports – even though their diplomatic statues does not require them to possess a visa. From Monday, the requirements for Czechs to enter the US will be the possession of a biometric passport, as well as the filling on of an online form known as ESTA. Approval by the ESTA system would then permit Czech citizens unlimited entry to the US for two years – something which critics describe as a de facto visa system, although proponents point out that the end of long waits at the US embassy are a key advantage of this scheme. Mr Langer and Mr Vondra are set to be onboard the first “non-visa flight” which departs for New York on Monday.
The Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has signalled his willingness to renegotiate a recent law passed by the Lower House, which lowers the age of criminal responsibility and age of consent to 14. The law, which analysts suggest may not pass the Senate may now be amended to return the age limit to 15 if approved by the Upper House. The offer was made by the Justice Minister on Sunday and would involve the current law being passed, with the proviso that a new legislation would be presented next year which would return the age limit back up to 15. The Justice Minister has expressed concerns that if the current law is not passed, loopholes in the current system may not be closed. A new criminal code is scheduled to come into effect at the beginning of 2010.
A controversial marriage proposal put forward by the Christian Democrat Culture Minister Václav Jehlička will not be considered according to Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil. The proposal for “lifelong” religious or covenant marriages, from which divorce would be far more difficult was rejected publicly on Sunday by the Justice Minister who stated that no citizen can surrender their future rights through such an agreement. The proposal, from which the Christian Democrats have distanced themselves was presented by Mr Jehlička as solidifying a more permanent form of marriage for Christian couples.
Two hundred Czech soldiers are to be made available to assist police during the Czech presidency of the EU, it has been announced. Most of the soldiers will work as drivers for official delegates, writes the ČTK news agency. The Czech Republic is set to assume a six month long presidency of the EU from January 1 2009. As part of its presidency, the country will host various delegations from Europe and across the world, which will require additional security.
The former Czech president Václav Havel has stated that he wonders if the Velvet Revolution was not “pointless.” The comments were made in an interview with the Czech daily Lidové Noviny and were specifically referencing the news that the Social Democrats are likely to enter into coalitions with the Communist Party in several local governments – the first time the latter party is going to govern since 1989. In the interview, Mr Havel noted “Sometimes I wonder if what we did back then wasn’t completely pointless.” But Jiří Dientsbier, a fellow former dissident rejected Mr Havel’s take on the Communist Party arguing that the pre-1989 communists were little more than an instrument of Soviet imperial politics.
The two main political parties, the governing Civic Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats have begun talks over the impending Czech presidency of the European Union. The move is widely viewed as a temporary ceasefire between the two rivals. According to media reports, both parties have dispatched two emissaries who will be tasked with agreeing on a series of principles that the rival parties can agree upon - including approving the Lisbon Treaty - as the Czech Republic assumes the presidency of the EU on January 1. However, the move has been met with criticism from Pavel Bém, the mayor of Prague who is set to challenge the current head of the Civic Democrats Mirek Topolánek for his leadership post later this year. Mr Bém described the talks as a kind of second “opposition agreement” referring to the notorious pact between the two major parties which enabled the minority Social Democrats to govern between 1998-2002 with the tacit backing of the then opposition Civic Democrats. However, this comparison has been dismissed by those involved in the talks.