The government has approved a plan by the Ministry of Defence to boost the number of Czech troops serving in Afghanistan by 55. Fifteen of the additional soldiers will be involved in training the Afghan police, while the remainder will be helping to defend a Polish base with two Czech-made gunnery radars. The reinforcements were requested by the US and the ministry was originally considering sending a larger force and Czech combat aircraft. The Social Democratic Party is strongly opposed to any increase beyond the 535 soldiers currently approved by Parliament for service in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Martin Barták has said that the reinforcement may be compensated for by decreasing the Czech Republic’s force in Kosovo.
The municipal government of Karlovy Vary wants to keep the greater part of the West Bohemian town off the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. According to the town’s mayor Werner Hauptmann, UNESCO protection would cover such an extensive area as to jeopardise development projects. The town may now seek protection only for its specific historic structures. Karlovy Vary has already filed a joint application with the towns of Marianské Lázně and Františkové Lázně for the induction of a triangle of historic spa towns though, and renegotiating the proposal could greatly delay what would be the 13th World Heritage Site in the Czech Republic. The National Heritage Institute says it is concerned the new proposal is detrimental to relations with UNESCO and that it will ultimately be dealt with by foreign experts not involved in local interests.
Prague Castle’s famous Zlatá ulička, or Golden Lane, is to be closed for at least one year for its most extensive restoration ever. The busy tourist destination will be closed from March and work will focus primarily on the obsolete sewer system, which Prague Castle Administration says risks destabilising the entire street. Work will likely be slowed by the archaeological research that almost always accompanies excavating work in Prague’s historical areas. In this case, workers will be excavating some six meters and thereby giving archaeologists their first opportunity to carefully examine this part of Prague Castle. Zlatá ulička preserves the last remnants of the small residential buildings that were home to soldiers and goldsmiths until the mid-19th century.
Czech scientists at the Institute for Experimental Medicine have succeeded in healing chronic spinal chord injuries in rats. The team discovered that new nerve fibres could be generated by injecting hydrogel with stem cells into the injured area. The treatment resulted in the rats’ mobility being improved and the feeling returned to their hind legs within six months. The scientists now hope to be able to test the method on humans, who are often left immobilised by such injuries. The particular benefit of the discovery is that only a small number of patients are able to undergo other stem cell treatments within sufficient time of their injury. Clinical tests are expected to be run on the hydrogel within the year, after which time it can be tested on humans.
The Czech government on Monday agreed to instate mandatory swine flu vaccinations for certain individuals, leaving the decision on whether to do so to Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vít. The Ministry of Health had proposed that 200,000 individuals – namely policemen, firemen and healthcare workers – be vaccinated in order to ensure the running of the state and received the approval of the National Security Council on Friday. Dr. Vít will put the proposal into effect based on statistics on acute respiratory illnesses, other forms of influenza and the monitoring of the State Health Institute. There are currently 1016 cases of swine flu per 100,000 people and there have been 95 deaths connected to the virus since October. Currently one-fourth of the vaccine stock purchased by the state has been used.
Scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology in Brno have discovered a new species of fish in the African savannah. The fish, which has been named Nothobranchius Kadelka after the well-known Brno scientist Jaroslav Kadlec, is particularly rare for its extremely short lifespan, consisting of only several weeks. The Nothobranchius inhabit pools created in the savannah in Mozambique during the rainy season and their lifespan is adapted to the fact that the pools dry up very quickly. The scientists hope their studies of the fish may indicate how various chemical substances effect aging in humans as well.
Czech ski resorts have reported one of their best weekends ever, as favourable weather conditions brought tens of thousands of visitors to the mountains. More than 12,000 skiers were estimated to have visited the Krkonoš Mts. on Sunday, with the popular destination of Špindlerův Mlýn alone receiving around 6,500 people. The heavy traffic formed long and slow-moving columns of cars in a number of areas. Visitor numbers were also supported by the fact that schools in 14 districts have begun spring break. The resorts report snow bases of 60 to 120 centimetres.
The district prosecutor’s office in Brno has said that an attack on Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolánek in which he was injured with a stone last August, will be deemed a misdemeanour rather than a criminal offence. Four men are charged with the attack, which left the former prime minister with light injuries to his head. Police have only been able to ascertain that the men threw eggs at Mr Topolánek and do not know who threw the stone. The men were originally to be charged with riotous conduct; they now face a maximum fine of 5,000 crowns each. Mr Topolánek said on Monday that he considers the act an organised rather than spontaneous attack and sharply criticised investigators for being unable to bring the attackers to court.
Police in the town of Čerčany to the south-east of Prague have said that an 18-year-old male was found dead last week at the train station after riding on the roof of a train. The man was apparently electrocuted by the train’s contact wires, which have a charge of 3000 volts. The police are continuing to investigate and have ordered an autopsy. A valid ticket for part of the train’s route to Prague was found in the young man’s possession.
Heavy snow and treacherous off-trail conditions in the mountainous regions of the Czech Republic have caused three deaths over as many days. Rescue services on Sunday discovered an unconscious man suffering from severe hypothermia after snowshoeing in the Šumava National Park. The unknown man later died in hospital. Avalanches resulted in two deaths at the weekend. In one incident a man was killed by an avalanche in the Jeseník Mountains when skiing off-track. The day before, a 13-year-old boy was killed when a cornice collapsed in a quarry where he and a friend were playing. Avalanche warnings are in place throughout the mountain regions due to the combination of strong winds, fresh snow and relatively high daytime temperatures.