The Czech economy grew by 3.1 percent last year instead of the earlier predicted 3.5 percent, the Czech Statistical Office announced on Wednesday. If that figure holds, it would mean that economic growth nearly halved in 2008 from 2007’s 6.0 percent. The latest growth figure results from a revision of February’s estimate following new information from businesses and the government. The latest figures show how the financial crisis hit the economy at the end of the year. Economic growth in the last quarter of 2008 fell by 0.9 percent compared with the previous three months in what is the first quarterly fall since 1998.
Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl has hit out at outdated health insurance provisions for foreigners who marry Czechs. Mr. Motejl said Czech law simply does not seem to count on the fact that Czechs might marry foreigners and their spouses would require health cover. The foreign spouse is often excluded from the public health insurance system because they have to wait two years after marriage before getting permanent residency. Women forced to stay at home and look after children are often worst hit, he added. An increasing number of individuals are facing the problem thanks to the rising number of Czechs marrying foreigners. Around 4,000 such marriages take place every year.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek expressed the hope that Montenegro would launch EU membership talks in 2010 during a visit to the country on Wednesday. He said the former Yugoslavian state, which later split from Serbia, should start talks about membership within a year. Mr Topolánek also expressed the hope the country would prove its democratic credentials in upcoming parliamentary elections on March 29. During an earlier visit to Macedonia, Mr. Topolánek pledged the Czech Republic would do its best to assist the lifting of visa requirements between Macedonia and the EU by the target date of 2010. Macedonia also wants to be a fully-fledged EU member state. Although it has the status of a candidate country but accession talks have yet to be launched.
Unions from the large industrial trade union, KOVO, have announced a major demonstration in Prague on May 16 to protest the impact of the financial crisis on workers. The union counts many industrial and manufacturing workers amongst its 170,000-strong membership. It says the government’s anti-crisis package does not address their needs and does not have its support. Other unions are expected to join the protest. The government says its package is centred on steps to cut burdens on employers and save threatened jobs but KOVO says it is not properly focused and does not go far enough.
A diplomatic hot potato has been handed back to Czech authorities by the Gulf State of Qatar, according to the weekly Týden. The Gulf state has now officially informed Czech authorities that a member of the royal family will not be prosecuted for having sex with underage girls when he lived in Prague. Prince Hamid Bin Abdal Sani was found guilty of the offence and sentenced to two-and-a-half years by a local court in 2005. The then minister of justice quashed the sentence and turned over Sani to Qatar authorities to deal with. The official decision, which still has to be translated from Arabic, means that Czech authorities now have to decide whether to drop the case as well or re-launch it.
Czech President Václav Klaus has announced the creation of an international grouping of institutions aimed at countering panic connected with global warming. The president, an outspoken global warming sceptic, said the new grouping will be called The Prague Network. The initial steps towards the launch of the grouping were taken in New York during his recent US tour, Mr Klaus said. He was speaking in Prague at the presentation of the new head of the Centre for Economics and Politics, a think-tank which propagates his free market views.
Changes transforming state-owned brewery Budějovický Budvar into a shareholder company should be tabled for government discussion in May, Minister of Agriculture Petr Gandalovič announced on Wednesday. The closely followed changes in the brewery’s current status of national corporation are seen as a signal that the brewery is being prepared for privatisation. The minister, who has in the past raised the prospects of bringing in a new shareholder, says the change is needed to update the company regardless of a sale. Gandalovič said the transformation was taking time because care had to be taken to protect Budějovický Budvar’s trademark rights. The Czech brewer is involved in a long-running and costly trademark dispute with US-based brewer Anheuser-Busch over rights to use the Budweiser name.
New finds by archaeologists under the floorboards of Prague Caste have helped to show the richness of life there during the renaissance and baroque periods. Finds at the imposing Vladislav Hall at the Old Palace include playing cards, remnants of letters and pages from books, buttons, safety pins, pipes, and beads. One of the biggest discoveries is a pocket sundial watch. Archaeologists worked at the hall from November until mid-February ahead of the reconstruction of the floor. They are expecting further discoveries from analysis of the timbers. The overall research is already painting a much fuller picture of place life in the 16th and 17th centuries.
English football club Chelsea, with Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech, have made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, beating opponents Juventus 3-2 on aggregate. Chelsea went into Tuesday’s match at the Stadio Olimpico with a slim advantage after beating Juventus in the first leg; Tuesday’s match ended in a 2:2 draw. The match was possibly the last in the Champions League for Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedvěd, who has said he will retire at the end of the season. Nedvěd suffered an injury in Tuesday’s game, which saw him replaced after just 13 minutes.
The National Reference Laboratory has denied media reports claiming that a Czech woman had been diagnosed with the human form of BSE, also known as mad cow disease. The laboratory said that in actual fact the 60-year-old woman had been diagnosed with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jacobs Disease which appears in a random occurrence, and has no known genetic or environmental cause. Sporadic CJD chiefly affects people between 50 and 75 years of age and can be mistaken for senility.