The Chamber of Deputies has been debating next year’s budget in its third and final reading, ahead of a vote expected later on Wednesday. The draft 2010 budget includes a projected record deficit of CZK 163 billion. While the finance minister in the caretaker Czech government, Eduard Janota, has said he could agree to the proposed transfer of 3 billion crowns to pay for social services, he says he will not accept any calls for further changes. During Wednesday’s debate – which has been heated at times – Minister Janota threatened to quit if the budget was not passed.
Around 2,000 police officers, fire officers and prison staff protested in Prague on Wednesday against a planned 4-percent cut in their salaries. The protestors held a march through the Czech capital, stopping outside the Chamber of Deputies during the debate on next year’s budget, before carrying on to Palackého náměstí square, where speeches were made by union leaders. The demonstration was monitored by the police, as with other such events.
The head of the Roman Catholic church in the Czech Republic says that while he has forgiven communists for the crimes of the past, he would still like to see the present-day Communist Party banned, the news website novinky.cz reported. In a statement on his website, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk wrote that though he had personally been harshly persecuted under the previous regime, as a Christian he forgave the perpetrators. But he said the communist ideology was still harmful to society today, adding that the issue of banning the party should have been dealt with during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The Communists are today the third biggest party in the Chamber of Deputies.
Thirty-four people are now known to have died of swine flu in the Czech Republic. Twelve people died of swine flu in the last six days, three of whom had no other medical problems. Just under 1,000 cases of infection with the H1N1 virus have now been detected in the country, with one tenth of that number being registered since Thursday last week. However, tests for the swine flu virus are only carried out in more serious cases, and the Ministry of Health believes that the real number is a lot higher. Nevertheless, there has been less interest in inoculation against the disease than was originally anticipated.
Lieutenant Colonel Jan Cífka is set to take command of Czech forces in Kosovo on Thursday. His appointment comes after the dismissal of Jiří Kýval at the end of November over problems involving his subordinates, including fighting under the influence of alcohol, drug use and the accidental shooting of one Czech soldier by another.
The Canadian embassy in Prague will open a visa section before Christmas, the news website lidovky.cz reported on Wednesday, quoting sources at both the embassy and the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials are due to begin processing visas on December 21, meaning Czechs wishing to travel to Canada will no longer have to apply at the country’s embassy in Vienna. Czech citizens need visas to enter Canada since Ottawa re-introduced a visa regime in the summer, following a sharp rise in the number of Czech Romanies applying for asylum there. Tomio Okamura, spokesperson for the Association of Czech Travel Agents, said that while 30,000 Czechs visited Canada last year, that figure has fallen by a third in 2009.
A report by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency says Romanies in the Czech Republic have been the most discriminated against minority in the 27-member bloc in the last year. The FRA interviewed over 20,000 refugees and members of ethnic minorities while carrying out the study. It found that 64 percent of Czech Romanies said they had suffered discrimination over a 12-month-period.
Some of the country’s most important historical sites have been “frozen” on the lands register since March, Lidové noviny reported. Among the 140 or so sites under distraint are a number of well-known castles and chateaus, the newspaper said. The situation has come about because of a dispute over the renting of the gardens at Prague Castle: a contract a private company had to rent the gardens was abrogated by the National Heritage Conservation Institute. A Prague court said a preliminary injunction taken by the company was invalid. However, a lower court whose task it was to lift the distraint order has not done so yet, Lidové noviny said.
Controversy has broken out over a plan to transport four rare northern white rhinoceroses from a zoo in Dvur Kralové in east Bohemia to Kenya. The move is aimed at help preserving the species. However, a civic group called Safari Archa 2007 is challenging the transfer, which they describe as nonsensical, and has announced a protest for December 16, three days before the rhinos are set to leave for the East African state. Meanwhile, the zoo is still waiting for a permit from the Czech Ministry of the Environment, without which the animals will not be allowed to travel.
The Czech floorball team has reached the semi-finals of the sport’s World Championship for the first time, after beating Norway 6:2 in Sweden’s Vaesteras on Tuesday. That result meant the Czechs finished second in their group behind hosts Sweden. They are now likely to face Switzerland on Friday for a place in the final.