Around 20,000 people gathered on Prague’s Hradčanské náměstí on Saturday to protest about the negative effects that the financial crisis is having on Europe’s workers. According to trade unions, who organized the demonstration, the figure was possibly closer to 30,000 and attendance was higher than could have been expected. The Prague demonstration is part of a several day long wider European programme to raise awareness about the curtailment of workers’ rights being brought about during the current economic downturn. Organisers said that protesters had come from as far away as Germany, Poland and France on Saturday. Related demonstrations took place in Madrid on Thursday and Brussels on Friday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of teachers from both the Czech Republic and abroad demonstrated outside the Czech Education Ministry against low pay on Saturday morning. After protesting at the ministry, they joined the mass demonstration held near Prague Castle at Hradčanské náměstí. A spokesperson from the Czech education workers’ trade union, František Dobšík, said that a further drop in wages in light of the current financial climate was ‘simply unacceptable’ for education workers and urged the government on Saturday to rule out the move. A pay raise of 3.5 percent for those working in the public sector, set to affect teachers in particular, was approved by the government of Mirek Topolánek just before it fell in March. Trade union officials, however, complain that the Czech education sector is grossly underfunded.
In an interview with Lidové noviny on Saturday, Czech president Václav Klaus said that he was ‘disappointed’ in the former government of Mirek Topolánek, and never had a cabinet succumbed to such pressure from lobbyists. Mr Klaus said that in the history of the Czech Republic, he had never seen a government which yielded so much to lobbyists’ interests and named former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s advisor Marek Dalík as one lobbyist to have penetrated the upper echelons of the Czech government in particular. On Friday, President Václav Klaus denied allegations that he had a hand in the fall of Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet in March. The former prime minister has accused Mr Klaus, Prague mayor Pavel Bem and rivals within his own Civic Democratic Party of having orchestrated the fall.
Some 87 people have been tested for swine flu infection in the Czech Republic since the virus was discovered in Mexico earlier this month. Of the 87 tests, 82 have come back negative and the results of five are still waiting to be known. There are currently three people hospitalized with suspected cases of swine flu in the Czech Republic, one in Brno, one in Pardubice and one in Prague. On Saturday, India and Turkey recorded its first cases of the virus, according to news agencies.
Almost 50 percent of Czechs agree with the toppling of Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet in March, a poll conducted by the CVVM agency and released on Friday suggests. Nearly 40 percent of Czechs, however, say that they are unhappy about the fall of the government halfway through the country’s EU presidency. Around 50 percent of those polled said that they thought the fall of the government had had an adverse effect on the Czech EU presidency. The fall of Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right government coalition in March was brought about by a no-confidence vote initiated by the opposition Social Democrats. This was the first case of a government being toppled in a no-confidence vote in the Czech Chamber of Deputies in the history of the Czech Republic, founded in 1993.
The revival of Central and Eastern Europe’s flagging economies will not come quickly, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Erik Berglof said on Friday. He added that the region was suffering from an outflow of foreign capital. Mr Berglof did say, however, that the Czech economy was starting to show some signs of stabilization. The figures are bad, he said in an interview with Reuters, but the data doesn’t look too dramatic overall, he added. According to Mr Berglof, Ukraine and Latvia were the countries in the region worst affected by the current financial crisis.
The Czech Chamber of Deputies may hold up to two extraordinary sessions in the course of this summer to discuss items which are not covered at the normal meeting of Parliament in June, Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka has said. On Wednesday, the lower house passed a bill calling early elections by October 10 this year, following the fall of the government coalition in March. On Friday, Mr Sobotka said that Parliament was currently ‘overburdened’ with draft legislation to be discussed, and that it should meet on several further occasions to get through the workload. The deputy head of the Social Democrats pointed out that Parliament already planned one extraordinary session at which a vote of confidence in interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer would take place.
Seventeen Dutch students were hospitalised in Germany having been poisoned by food they were served during a class trip to the Czech Republic, a police official from the German town of Hof has said. The Dutch school-group were returning home after a trip to the Krkonoše Mountains in the north of the Czech Republic when 17 members of the group fell so ill they had to be hospitalized in a German town on the way. According to local police, the students may have been poisoned by a meal they ate in the Czech town of Mšeno on Friday evening before setting off. Police refused to divulge the age of the students affected, nor the name of the restaurant in question. All of those hospitalized have now been discharged.
In boxing, the formerly unbeaten Czech Jindřích Kubín was defeated by British Olympic champion James DeGale in Belfast on Friday night. The middleweight gold medalist from the Beijing games produced a powerful display to beat the Czech, who was fighting outside Central Europe for the first time. A combination of right-hand punches floored Kubín and DeGale pursued his opponent relentlessly until the referee stopped the contest before the end of the first-round at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.
The lower house of Parliament on Friday approved an anti-crisis package that includes a scrap incentive to boost car sales, faster tax write-offs and more generous unemployment and child benefits. The car scrap incentive would be either 30,000 or 60,000 crowns for a vehicle older than ten years depending on whether the owner acquired an ordinary car or an environmentally friendly vehicle. The bill is a compromise agreement between the two strongest parties in Parliament, the Civic and Social Democrats, and should have no problems passing through the Senate.