Czech airports gradually suspended all flights on Friday as a volcanic ash
cloud from Iceland spread across Europe. Prague’s Ruzyně international
airport closed at noon and has been rescheduling flights. Fifty-eight
flights out of Ruzyně were cancelled on Thursday and dozens more on Friday
morning. Brno and Ostrava airports were the last to close down, suspending
all flights at 2pm on Friday. The flight ban does not concern emergency aid
helicopters and light aircraft.
Air traffic in many parts of Europe has been disrupted by the volcanic activity in Iceland with international airports in the Scandinavian states, the Baltic states, Britain, Poland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands closing down all or most of their airspace. Meteorologists say it is impossible to tell how quickly the ash may disperse or settle. The problem was reportedly at its worst above the Czech Republic between 12 and 2 pm on Friday.
The severe disruption in air travel around Europe has sent interest in rail tickets soaring. Czech Railways said its sales have shot up and it is having to boost train links to neighbouring countries, particularly to Germany and Austria. Czech Railways said its booking offices were extending work hours to meet demand.
The Archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, served a special mass at Prague’s St Vitus Cathedral on Friday morning in memory of the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski and others who died in last Saturday’s tragic plane crash. Among those present were Czech President Václav Klaus, Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Poland’s ambassador to Prague, Jan Pastwa. Czech Television broadcast the service live. Saturday and Sunday have been declared days of mourning in the Czech Republic in honour of the 96 people who died in last Saturday’s crash. President Klaus and Archbishop Duka are due to attend President Kaczynski's funeral in the southern Polish city of Krakow on Sunday. It has been confirmed that the funeral will go ahead despite the traffic complications in Europe.
A survey conducted by the STEM polling agency suggests that support for the centre-right Civic Democratic Party has slumped to its lowest level since March of 2006. The survey results see the Social Democrats strongly in the lead with 27,8 percent of the vote, followed by the Civic Democrats with 18,6 percent. The poll registered a slight dip in support for the Communists with 9,9 percent, while the right-wing TOP 09 has improved its standing with 9,3 percent as has Public Affairs with 8,5 percent. Political analysts say that such an outcome would make it near impossible for the Civic Democrats to create a centre right coalition.
The Czech Constitutional Court has invalidated, as of September 2011, a part of the pension system that puts people with higher salaries at a disadvantage. The proposal for it to be invalidated came from the regional court in Ostrava on the grounds of numerous complaints. The Constitutional Court had been deliberating the matter since 2007. The 2011 deadline invalidating this part of the pension law will force the two chambers of Parliament to amend the law by that date. Finance Minister Eduard Janota has said this must be the task of the next government.
Politicians are divided over the verdict of the Constitutional Court. The Social Democrats said the court had made a decision influencing the state budget, without bearing political responsibility for the move. Party leader Jiří Paroubek said the court had acted as it were a third chamber of Parliament. TOP 09 and the Green Party have said it is vitally necessary to analyze what impact such a change would have on the state budget, while the Civic Democrats have stressed the urgency of reforming the entire pension system.
The head of the Supreme Audit Office František Dohnal will have to pay a fine of 50,000 crowns for refusing to allow an independent investigation into its financing, the CTK news agency reported Friday. After receiving reports about mismanagement of funds from inside the Supreme Audit Office, MPs appointed an independent auditing firm and set up a commission to look into the matter. However in a brief, stormy meeting the head of the office refused to give them access to any documents and had them escorted out of the building. He claims the independence of the Supreme Audit Office is threatened by growing political pressure linked to the fact that the office had uncovered serious cases of abuse of public finances.
President Václav Klaus on Friday awarded art historian František Dvořák the Golden plaque for his contribution to art history and art education in the Czech Republic. The award was presented to Professor Dvorak on occasion of his 90th birthday. František Dvořák is one of the leading experts in his field, the author of several dozen books on art history and despite his advanced age still lectures at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. He became a household name when he hosted a successful TV series about the history of Charles Bridge.
Traffic police are out in force near the border areas with Poland, in connection with road restrictions imposed in that country over the weekend. In view of commemorative ceremonies for the victims of last Saturday’s plane crash, the Polish authorities have said they will not allow trucks weighing over 12 tons to enter Polish territory. Only trucks carrying livestock and milk will be exempted from the ban. The police are expecting traffic complications as a result of long lines forming at the border.
A Czech two-seater plane exploded in the air on Friday morning near the town of Eidenberg in Austria, some 20 kilometres from the Czech-Austrian border. The pilot was killed in the accident and according to early reports he appears to have been alone in the cabin. Debris from the plane was scattered over a wide area. It is not clear if the accident had anything to do with the adverse flight conditions caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.