The Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Jan Winkler, died suddenly on Monday, aged 51. A spokesperson for the Czech Foreign Ministry said that the Czech Republic had lost one of its most capable diplomats. Mr Winkler died of natural causes. The Foreign Ministry said that it had already sent a letter of condolence to his family. Mr Winkler became Czech Ambassador to Britain in 2005. He served at the Foreign Ministry in Prague between 2003 and 2005.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that the Czech Republic will exceed the eurozone’s budget deficit limit in 2009 because of the financial crisis. The Maastricht criteria call for countries sharing the single euro currency to keep public deficits below three percent of GDP. But speaking on Slovak Television on Sunday, Mr Topolánek said that this limit would be exceeded because of the cost of a crisis-management plan the government is seeking to put in place. The Czech Republic is yet to announce a target date for euro entry, but the prime minister has said that he will set a deadline by November this year.
The anti-crisis plan that the government approved on Monday will cost some 40.5 billion crowns (197 million USD), Hospodářské noviny has reported. The newspaper wrote that Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek fine-tuned the anti-crisis package with his team of advisors on Sunday. The stimulus plan envisages higher government spending on education and research, cutting firms’ social security costs when they employ new graduates and contracting out the upkeep of the country’s infrastructure to private enterprises. On Sunday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said he would be prepared to stake his cabinet’s future on the approval of the plan.
Under new legislation which comes into effect on Monday, foreigners who have lost their job as a result of the Czech economic downturn will be able to claim a free plane ticket home and 500 euros expenses from the Czech government. Interior Minister Ivan Langer has said that he hopes around 2000 foreign workers will take up the government’s offer in the next eight months. The government predicts that up to 12,000 foreign workers could lose their jobs in the next couple of months. The Interior Ministry has set aside 60.7 million crowns (2.6 million USD) in a bid to encourage these foreigners to return home. Interior Minister Ivan Langer has said that rising unemployment rates amongst foreigners could lead to an increase in organized crime, while human rights groups say that the government’s plan will prove ineffective.
More than 40 people were injured on Monday morning when two trains collided near Frýdek-Místek, northern Moravia. Two of the most seriously injured were airlifted to a hospital in Ostrava, where their condition is now said to be stable. A further ten were taken to hospital in Frýdek-Místek. Trains are still disrupted between Paskov and Vratimov, with a replacement bus service in place. According to the railway inspectorate, the crash was caused by one of the train-drivers, who ran a red light.
The crown’s value continued to plummet on Monday with the currency hitting a three-year low against the euro, trading at 29 crowns to the euro. The crown has lost 26 percent of its value against the euro in the last year, according to analyst Jiří Šimek from consultants Citco. The crown also fell against the dollar to 22.7 crowns/ USD. The Czech crown currently ranks amongst one of the fastest falling currencies in the world, reports the news website Novinky.cz. According to analysts, a rising rate of unemployment and a drop in industrial production is being mirrored in the currency’s fall.
Representatives of the Czech Romany community have written to US President Barack Obama expressing their concern about the rise in nationalist sentiment in the Czech Republic, a spokesperson from the Roma Realia organization has said. According to Roma Realia’s Václav Miko, a letter was handed to Mary Thompson-Jones, the charge d’affairs at the US Embassy in Prague, alerting President Obama to the current situation for Czech Roma. The authors of the letter complained that the Romany Holocaust was not yet being appropriately commemorated by the Czech state, with the site of a former Romany concentration camp in Lety, south Bohemia, still being used as a commercial pig farm.
A march planned by far-right extremists in Plzeň this Saturday has been outlawed by the local council. This is the second time in a month that neo-Nazis have planned to march in the West Bohemian town, and had their protest banned. A statement released by the municipality said that the march was outlawed because it may incite hatred and intolerance. Neo-Nazis were planning to march in the vicinity of the town’s synagogue.
The body of a Czech hiker who disappeared in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia on Friday has been found, Slovak rescue workers told the press on Monday. The search for the missing tourist was complicated by heavy snowfall over the weekend. Three other Czechs got lost in adverse conditions in the Slovak hills on Saturday, but managed to make their way back to base on Sunday after a night in the open. Mountain rescuers have warned of more bad weather to come in the Tatras over the next couple of days.
Czech tennis number one Radek Štěpánek has won his second ATP title this year, the SAP Open in San Jose. After overcoming Andy Roddick in the semi-finals, the fourth seed went on to beat another American, Mardy Fish, 3-6 6-4 6-2 in Sunday’s final. The Czech also took the doubles title in San Jose, when he and Germany’s Tommy Haas defeated Rohan Bopanna of India and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 6-2 6-3.