Police in Prague have announced they have arrested 42 members of the extreme right-wing Workers’ Party, including the party’s chairman. The members were arrested in Prague city centre at a demonstration protesting the banning of their election commercials. A demonstration of some 60 people was first broken up by a city official on the grounds of a speech having referred to National Socialism, which is an offence under Czech law. The crowd then planned to march on the Czech Radio building but was barricaded by the police and most were detained for questioning after ignoring orders to disperse. Czech Radio took the decision to ban the Workers’ Party’s pre-election ads last week due to concerns that the ads, which attack the country’s Romani minority, violated hate speech laws.
Moreover, the extreme right National Party intends to request that elections to the European Parliament be invalidated after their election commercials were banned from Czech television and Czech Radio. The party stated on Sunday that it would take its complaint to the court and to the relevant institutions of the EU following the elections. Czech Television broadcast an ad by the neo-Nazi party last week which offered a “final solution to the gypsy question” - an expression used by the Nazis during World War II in reference to the extermination of Jews, Romanies and others.
In related news, the Green Party called upon the director of Czech Television, Jiří Janeček, to resign over the airing of the commercial. The television removed the commercial after a wave of public condemnation and has since filed a lawsuit against the National Party. Czech Television stated on Sunday that neither the television nor its director comments on what politicians say during the course of their pre-election campaigns. Czech law compels broadcasters to run all commercials for political parties, however other laws prohibit the dissemination of fascism and hate speech in the media.
The Minister of Finance, Eduard Janota, has announced he intends to keep the budget deficit for next year to 170 billion crowns by reducing parts of the budget by up to 20 percent and freezing government wages. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Mr Janota said that the 223 billion crown deficit he expects is unacceptable, and that he intended to reduce it via the 18% of expenditures that the finance minister is capable of affecting. The plan will be to strip some chapters of the budget by up to 20%, giving priority support to science, research, education and infrastructure.
With regards to the ongoing discussion over the privatisation of Prague Airport, the Finance Minister also stated that the new government’s official policy statement would make no mention of the issue. According to Mr Janota, an economic recession is not an appropriate time for the sale of any kind of property, and the government should keep strategic control over the airport until such time as an elected government can decide on the matter. The statement was praised by the Social Democratic party, which has conditioned their vote of confidence in the new government on the rejection of the airport’s privatisation.
The final meetings of the regional chapters of the Christian and Democratic Union at the weekend have failed to result in any clear support for a party leader. The party’s current head, Jiří Čunek, was endorsed by secret ballot only in his home region of Zlín. Other candidates in the running for the leadership of the country’s fourth most voted party include former foreign minister Cyril Svoboda, MP Michaela Šojdrová and Euro MP Jan Březina. The Christian Democratic Party has been suffering from infighting between those favouring the current party chairman and members who have taken sides with former chairman Miroslav Kalousek. Mr Kalousek however stated earlier this week that he would have no further involvement in the party and is expected to announce a new conservative party following the Christian Democrat’s convention next week.
Summery travel conditions at the weekend saw 12 fatalities on Czech roads, the highest number since the beginning of the year. Six fatalities were reported on Saturday and Sunday amid, with several of the accidents involving motorcycle drivers or cyclists, and one collision of an automobile with a train in which two were killed.
The Ministry of Transportation is to review the current maximum speed limit of 130 kilometres per hour on Monday. An amendment to the law would allow a maximum speed of 160 km/h on sections of motorways where there are no slip roads and where drivers have at least 200m visibility. Speed limits could also be raised to 100 km/h on other roads as well.
Clean-up work was being carried out over the weekend following severe lightening and hail storms in the Czech Republic on Friday. Trees were knocked down, train transport was interrupted in some parts of the country as Czech Railways closed 17 lines, and scores of households in the east of the country remain without electricity as of Sunday. Czech fire brigades were called out 400 times between midnight Friday and noon Saturday to deal with problems caused by heavy rain and strong winds. The Czech Press Agency has reported that similar storms are expected for Tuesday.
Representatives of the EU and South Korea discussed a trade deal worth USD 100 billion at a summit chaired by the Czech president, Václav Klaus, on Saturday. The two sides had hoped to reach agreement on lowering barriers to trade and investment at the meeting in Seoul, but the EU’s first major trade pact in Asia was stalled by disputes within the EU over how a deal would impact its auto industry. At a news conference President Klaus said an agreement would not be signed before the Czech presidency of the bloc comes to an end, in five and a half weeks’ time. He said leaders had called for a speeding up of talks to ensure a deal was reached by the end of the year.