The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, granted pardons to four people connected to the late crime boss František Mrázek and the convicted fugitive Tomáš Pitr, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday. The newspaper said the four had been convicted on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Mr Klaus’s chancellor Jiri Weigl said the president was unaware of their connection to Mrázek and Pitr. He said it was not possible to tell from pardon requests who the applicant had done business with or was friends with. Poor health was the reason given for three of the pardons, while the fourth was issued so the recipient could look after her children.
On the third day of hearings against the extreme-right Workers’ Party, chairman Tomáš Vandas told the Supreme Administrative Court he sees nothing wrong with the party’s connections to the right-wing National Democratic Party of Germany. The government, which is currently filing for the dissolution of the Workers’ Party, made the case on Wednesday that the party’s ties to their German counterparts and other, much more radical German extremist associations is evidence of their obstruction of democratic values. Mr Vandas maintains that his party does not espouse neo-Nazism or other fascist ideologies; on Tuesday however he also refused to distance himself from comments made by a speaker at a party event referring to Zionist conspiracy and praising the government of Adolf Hitler. Should the court rule in the government’s favour, the Wokers’ Party would be the first political organisation in the Czech Republic to be banned for the obstruction of democracy.
Meanwhile, the organised crime department of the Czech Police is carrying out another series of raids against right-wing extremists in various parts of the country. According to the website tyden.cz, a number of people have been arrested in Prague and Brno. The police have declined to comment until the operation is complete. In the last extensive operation, in October of last year, a nationwide series of house searches resulted in the arrest of 24 individuals, 18 of whom were subsequently charged with subversion of human rights.
The Czech charity organisations People in Need and the Caritas Czech Republic have announced they will be sending 800,000 crowns in immediate humanitarian aid to victims of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. The organisations also opened money collections specifically for disaster assistance in the areas. The Liberec charity Hand for Help says it will be sending a team of aid workers to Haiti by Saturday. Approximately 1,000 people are thought to be dead and much of the capital of Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the 7.0-magnitude quake.
The H1N1 swine flu virus has claimed another ten lives over the course of the last week according to the Health Ministry. The ministry now records 77 people as having died of the illness since October. The majority of the deceased suffered from another serious illness, with only one in ten had no other diagnosis. The flu has been confirmed in 2308 cases; experts believe the actual number of infections to be much higher. The state is currently providing an H1N1 vaccine to high-risk groups free of charge.
The District Court in Brno on Wednesday awarded custody of the two boys abused in the 2007 “Kuřim case” to their father. The boys, who are 10 and 12 years of age, have been in the care of a Brno child crisis centre for roughly two and a half years since it was found that their mother and others were subjecting them to extremely severe punishments prescribed by their religious cult. The father, who has been visiting the children in the care centre regularly, was separated from the family at the time of the abuse and has said he was not aware it was taking place.
Transportation problems continue on the outskirts of Prague for thousands of railway commuters, days after a heavy snowstorm blanketed low-lying regions of the Czech Republic. A number of connections, primarily on two of the main commuter lines between Prague and the towns of Kolín and Beroun, have been cancelled while others are seriously delayed or have limited capacities. Ropid, the company responsible for public transit planning in and around Prague, says that while other modes of municipal transportation are now running satisfactorily, the railway system is still suffering from a number of snow-bound switches and inoperable vehicles.
Fishermen in the central region of Vysočina are requesting 2.8 million crowns in damages from the state due to lost revenues caused by cormorants and river otters. The state budget regularly compensates losses caused by protected animal species, however the reimbursement for 2009 is the largest in the last four years. While the numbers of otters have remained stable in recent years, larger numbers of cormorants were drawn to the area last year by the mild winter, which entailed less frozen ponds.
The Czech Statistical Office has released the results of retail sales for the month of November, showing a 4.9%% decrease year-on-year. The result is a 0.2 point decline from the preceding month. As in October, the slump was put down to decreased sales of motor vehicles and non-grocery goods. According to the Czech Press Agency, the result marks the largest drop in retail sales since early 2008, when adjusted by seasonal influences and the number of working days. The EU on average saw a 0.8% decline for the month.
The Czech foreign minister, Jan Kohout, says a new NATO strategic concept currently being prepared should strengthen security guarantees for the countries of central and eastern Europe. Mr Kohout made the comments after a conference at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs attended by the Prague-born former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. She is heading a team sounding out opinion on the new strategic concept in various NATO member states. Minister Kohout said the alliance should maintain a balance between foreign missions and the traditional defence of its members.