Transport unions in the Czech Republic will hold a five-hour strike next Monday morning, officials told reporters on Tuesday. The strike will be in effect from 4:00 to 9:00 and will mainly affect the country’s rail network and public transport in Prague. The move is in protest at a change to the taxation system that has put workers’ benefits in a higher tax bracket. Union leaders have also threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the matter is not resolved to their liking.
The lower house’s defence committee has voted not to support a plan to increase the number of Czech soldiers in Afghanistan. The Czech government wants to send 55 more troops to the country, where there is already a contingent of over 500 Czech soldiers. Representatives of the Social Democrats and Communists on the defence committee either voted against or abstained during Tuesday’s show of hands. It is possible that the two left-wing parties will also block the proposal when it goes before both houses of the Czech parliament.
The police are forming a special team to investigate alleged corruption surrounding a large contract to buy armoured personnel carriers for the Czech army. Police president Oldřich Martinů told Prime Minister Jan Fischer that the first results of the investigation will be available by the end of March. The background to the awarding of a contract to buy Pandur APCs from the Austrian firm Steyr has been in the news recently, after former executives from the company told the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes that Czech political parties had received kickbacks amounting to two or three percent of the cost. That allegation has been denied by the two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats. The deal to buy 107 APCs from Steyr was worth over CZK 14 billion, or more than USD 750 million.
On Tuesday Hospodářské noviny reported that the Czech army had spent CZK 8 billion, or over USD 420 million, on weapons, cars and airplanes without having launched tenders for the contracts. The newspaper said the firm MPI Group, which is owned by a friend of Defence Minister Martin Barták, had supplied the army with ammunition for almost CZK 1 billion.
The Chamber of Deputies will debate around 15 government proposals at a regular session on March 10 and 17, after talks between the prime minister, Jan Fischer, and party leaders on what the caretaker cabinet can achieve before it leaves office in just over three months’ time. Recently disputes between the right- and left-wing parties in the lower house have led to filibustering. The head of the parliamentary group of the centre-right Civic Democrats, Petr Tluchoř, said however that Tuesday’s agreement did not mean his party would back all of the interim government’s proposals.
Nearly 10 percent of agricultural land in the Czech Republic is now used for organic farming, according to information released by the Agriculture Ministry on Tuesday. In total close to 400,000 hectares has been given over to organic farming, while the number of organic farms in the country now stands at nearly 2,700, following a year-on-year increase of around 20 percent.
The first milk vending machine in Prague went into operation at the city’s Park Hostivař shopping centre on Tuesday morning. A litre of fresh milk costs 20 crowns, with a plastic bottle costing five crowns more. On Monday the country’s chief hygiene officer, Michal Vít, pointed out that as the milk is unpasteurised it should be boiled before consumption. There are already dozens of other milk “automats” at other locations in the Czech Republic.
The internet auction website eBay has launched a Czech language version at www.ebay.cz. However, the firm’s payment system PayPal is not yet available in Czech. eBay had said last week that its Czech version would begin by the end of March. It has also created new versions in a number of other European languages.
The coach of gold medalist Martina Sáblíková says the speed skater is likely to take part in at least three more Winter Olympic Games and could even participate in the Summer Olympics. Petr Novák told the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes that he believes Sáblíková, who is 22, will win two gold medals at every Winter Games she appears in. There have also been suggestions that the speed skater could compete in some form of cycling in the Summer Games, though Novák said he did not know if she would be ready in time for the Olympics in London in 2012. Sáblíková has taken gold in the 3,000 metres in Vancouver and is expected to win another in the 5,000 metres on Wednesday. She also earned a bronze medal in the 1,500 metres.