After a meeting with the head of the Christian Democrats Cyril Svoboda on Thursday, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he would back Svoboda’s suggestion to investigate all members of a government committee in charge of public tenders. The tenders that the committee awards involve sums upward of half a billion Czech crowns. Mr. Fischer said the proposed measure would be debated at Monday’s government session. Mr. Svoboda believes that it is possible the investigation will reveal irregularities and that some large public tenders may need to be cancelled. One example of such tenders is a multi-billion crown contract for the removal of environmental damage in Czech forests.
According to analysts’ estimations, the country’s trade balance in 2009 has reached a record surplus of 150 billion crowns. A decline in transportation costs and car scrap incentives in neighboring countries are cited as the main reasons for this record surplus in times of deep global recession. Should car scrap incentives be discontinued by some governments, it would affect the trade balance of the Czech Republic negatively, analysts say. As a consequence, some economists warn the trade balance surplus should not be interpreted as a signal of long-term improvement of the economic situation both in the Czech Republic and abroad. For 2010, experts predict a trade surplus of about 90 billion crowns.
The Canadian embassy in Prague announced on Thursday that in 2010, the Canadian government will offer 1200 work visas to young Czech citizens wishing to live and work in Canada for a year. That is 200 more than in 2009. The increase is part of a government program aiming to boost mobility for young people. The program has been in operation since 2007 and to this date, some 1300 Czechs have taken advantage of the offer. Those who wish to apply for work visas have to pay a fee of 2500 Czech crowns and meet certain requirements, such as being aged between 18 and 35 years.
On Thursday, the Czech weekly Sedmička published an article claiming that doctors from Prague in the late seventies were supposed to perform surgery on the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The information is based on documents that the magazine’s staff says it has at its disposal. At the time, political relations between Iraq and then Czechoslovakia were very good and the Iraqi government asked the Czech authorities for help with Mr. Hussein’s health issues in 1977. The late dictator was then suffering from strong pain resulting from a slipped disk.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court in Prague ruled that two women, who were sterilized without their knowledge, should receive hundreds of thousands of crowns in compensation. According to the League of Human Rights, the doctors who sterilized the two patients were trying to prevent serious health complications but didn’t offer them the chance to make a decision about their own health. Under the communist regime and even into the late 90s, women predominantly of Roma origin were sometimes sterilized against their will and the Minister of Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb said that new measures will prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
According to a report by Czech Television, 123 Czechs have died in traffic accidents related to alcohol consumption in 2009. Of the total number of such accidents, 83 took place between January and November while 40 happened in December alone. Compared to police statistics of previous years, 2009 was less tragic in terms of alcohol-related traffic accidents. The total number of accident victims on Czech roads this year was 830.
Czech President Václav Klaus has given clemency to a former member of the foreign police who accepted bribes and was sentenced to two years in prison. The policewoman had been accepting money from foreigners who were hoping that their bribes would expedite their visa applications, which are handled by the foreign police in the Czech Republic. The president’s decision was motivated by the policewoman’s state of health as well as numerous letters petitioning for her not to be sent to prison, including one by the mayor of the town where she lives.
Czech tennis number one Radek Štěpánek has reached the semi-final of the Brisbane International, which he won last year. Mr. Štěpánek is two wins away from earning the title for a second time. The 31-year old, who represented the Czech Republic at the Davis Cup, beat the American Wayne Odesnik 7:6 and 6:1. After reaching the quarter-final on Wednesday, Czech tennis player Lucie Safarova dropped out of the competition after a mixed match.
Former Czech president Václav Havel took part in a protest outside the
Chinese embassy in Prague on Wednesday against the imprisonment of a
Chinese dissident. Along with the cleric Bishop Václav Malý and actor
Pavel Landovský, Mr Havel attempted to hand an open letter to embassy
officials calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo, who was recently
to 11 years in jail after criticising the Chinese government. When
officials did not answer a bell at the embassy gate, the three posted the
letter in its mailbox. Václav Havel, who was himself a dissident, told
reporters that January 6 was a significant date, as it was on Three
Kings’ Day 33 years ago that the Charter 77 protest document was issued
in communist Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, the Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, has asked the minister of foreign affairs, Pavel Kohout, to look into the imprisonment of Mr Liu. A spokesperson for the government said that would involve interviewing the Chinese ambassador to Prague about the subject.