The Czech government called an emergency meeting late Thursday to agree moves aimed at averting a threatened transport sector strike. It agreed a proposal to abolish proposed tax changes which are at the root of workers’ grievances about increased tax on employee benefits. The government proposal should be debated in parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Dosia association of transport unions announced a strike on Monday morning from 4:00 AM to 9:00 AM. Union leaders cast doubt on whether the strike could be postponed by the government action. The head of the union representing train drivers expressed doubts Monday’s action would be called off, adding that parliament still had to vote on the tax changes. The government action might put off later action, he said. Union leaders have threatened to go on indefinite strike if their grievances are not addressed.
Minister of the Interior Martin Pecina has complained about insufficient European support in the country’s quarrel with Canada over the re-imposition of visas on Czechs. Mr. Pecina said on Thursday that he had called for solidarity from other EU members but had been disappointed by many of them and by the insufficiently strong stand of the executive European Commission. He was speaking at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels. Canada reintroduced visa requirements on Czechs in July 2009, citing the large numbers of asylum seekers. Prague has been seeking strong EU support to get the step reversed. The European Commission recommended in October that states introduce visas on Canadian diplomats unless it altered its position.
Minister of Culture Václav Riedlbauch has announced a tender to fill the post of director of Prague’s National Gallery. Contenders to follow long-term director Milan Knížák will have to apply by the end of March. But it is still not clear when the new appointee to one of the country’s most significant cultural institutions might take up the new post. Mr. Knížák has said he would like to stay on until the end of 2011 so that he can wrap up some unfinished projects. He has been in the post since 1999, courting controversy for some of his purchases and prizes awarded to upcoming artists. The choice of new director will be made by a committee at the ministry.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fisher took part in the three-day meeting of the Visegrad group of countries in Budapest. The government said on Thursday that the main theme of the regular meetings of Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian leaders is energy security. Many of the countries are dependent on Russia for oil and natural gas deliveries. Mr. Fischer said diversification of energy sources is crucial and it was necessary for countries in Central Europe to show that they can put together and complete power projects. As well as the usual group of four countries, representatives from the Balkans will also be present as well as a US government representative dealing with energy security in Europe and Asia. One of the biggest ongoing energy projects, the Nabucco pipeline, aims at transporting gas from the Caspian region to Central Europe.
Members of the lower house of the Czech Parliament agreed on Thursday to tighten rules on anonymous shareholding. The proposal, put forward by the Social Democrats, and the Greens, should ban issuing shares to anonymous persons. Supporters of the move claim that this should help counter money laundering. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats, who oppose the plan, say it will interfere with ownership rights. Tightening the rules on shareholding has been recommended by several of the country’s anti-corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International. The proposal could take effect from the start of 2011 if backed by the upper house and president.
Nature conservationists in the east of the Czech Republic bordering Slovakia have begun a survey of large mammals living in the area. They began the survey on Thursday and hope to map out the mammals in the Beskydy region by Sunday. The region is the only one in the country where wolves and bears can still be found. Last year’s survey also confirmed the presence of around 16 lynx. Around 50-60 volunteers will attempt to cover around 1200 square kilometres.
The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ordered the Czech state to pay British man Ronald Crabtree 2,000 euros in compensation for detaining him illegally. Mr. Crabtree had demanded damages of 2.0 million euros. He was detained and imprisoned on suspicion of corruption in February 2003. But instead of being ordered to be detained for the three months maximum until May, a court ruled he should be remanded in prison until December. He was eventually sentenced to three-and-a-half years. The court in Strasbourg recognised his complaint that his initial detention had been illegal. The Ministry of Justice said it was considering an appeal.
The UK border agency, the government body controlling migration into Britain, arrested six Czechs on suspicion of running a ring offering arranged marriages to gain legal entry into the country, local media reported on Thursday. The Liverpool Echo reported on Thursday that raids by officials had been carried out in the city as well as in nearby Bolton in the north-west of England. It said three Czech men and women are suspected of assisting illegal immigration and bigamy. The last charge follows from the fact that they are suspected of entering into new marriages in spite of already being married.
Representatives of Czech and Slovak football associations met on Thursday in Prague to discuss a possible merger of their football leagues. The idea has been floated that a return to former Czechoslovak situation of a common league could happen within several years. They already have a rough idea of how this could happen but expect some tough talks with European football’s governing association, UEFA. It has rejected similar moves in the past. One of the main arguments in favour of a joint league would be that the quality of football and competition would improve.
Czech speed skater Martina Sáblíková has won the gold medal in the women’s 5000 meter race, becoming the first Czech ever to win three medals in the Winter Olympics. The 22-year-old will now be returning from Vancouver with a special place in Czech sports history, having won an earlier gold in the three-kilometre race and a bronze in the 1500. Sáblíková completed the circuit on Wednesday’s race in 6:50.91, beating the track record set by the contestant before her, German Stephanie Beckert, by a tight 0.48 seconds. Third place was taken by Canadian Clara Hughes. Sáblíková, was the last to compete and was thus aware of her accomplishment immediately as she reached the finish line, triumphant and quite evidently exhausted. In other Olympics news, a success for the Czech relay team, who won the bronze in the 4x10 kilometre race Thursday morning. Meanwhile, hopes of a medal win in hockey were dashed by a 0:2 loss to Finland.