Finance Minister Eduard Janota has said that the massive financial aid package approved by the EU on Monday would have no direct effect on the Czech Republic. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Mr Janota said that potential Czech participation in the package would only be indirect, via reserves in the existing EU budget. The meeting of the EU finance ministers calculated that the Czech Republic’s contribution to the package would total 4 billion euros annually. The 500-billion-euro package was approved by the ministers in order to rescue member states nearing bankruptcy – as has recently been the case with Greece – with an injection of up to 440 billion euros, and to calm the currently agitated financial markets.
President Václav Klaus has ratified an amendment to the Armed Forces Act, which modifies several aspects of the way the Czech army works. The new law decreases the total number of soldiers serving in the Czech armed forces, and thereby shifts certain jobs from the army to the Ministry of Defence. It also stipulates that soldiers discharged for extremism will not receive service benefits. The amendment is one of 11 bills that the president received from parliament on Monday. Others included an act allowing explosive materials to be better tracked from the producer to the purchaser, and an amendment creating a subsistence minimum for the handicapped.
The Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl, who died on Sunday at the age of 77, will be buried next Monday with state honours. A service will be held at the Na Fidlovačce theatre, where the public can pay final respects. The Czech Press Agency reported on Monday that the choice of Mr Motejl’s successor would likely be left to the next government, as members of parliament have a six-week timeline in which to put forward nominees. Most of the parties have not yet suggested any candidates for the position. Mr. Motejl was the Czech Republic’s first Ombudsman and a highly respected public figure. He served as ombudsman from December of 2000, before which time he held the posts of justice minister and President of the Supreme Court.
Flights at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport are running according to schedule with no restrictions over Czech airspace, a spokesman said early on Monday morning. Prague Airport was forced to cancel a number of flights on Sunday as the spread of a volcanic ash cloud over southern Europe closed down several airports. The airspace over the southern parts of the Czech Republic was also off limits during the night. Although air traffic has now returned to normal Prague’s Ruzyně Airport has advised travellers to inform themselves in advance about scheduled flights in and out of the Czech capital.
A public opinion survey released by the polling agency Median for the month of April puts preference for the centre-left Social Democratic Party at 26.2%, followed by the centre-right Civic Democratic Party at 19%. The poll suggests a slight lapse in preference for the two main political parties and a related rise in support for new parties. The newly formed party of ex-prime minister Miloš Forman overcame the 5% parliamentary threshold, as did the fledgling Public Affairs party and the Christian Democrats, each by roughly two points. However, the Green Party, which is currently in parliament, was down by 1.3 points to 3.5%. The Communist Party received 13.3% preference in the poll, followed by the new centre-right party TOP 09.
The unemployment rate in the Czech Republic decreased to 9.2 in April from the preceding month, the Ministry of Labour has reported. The report shows the greatest decreases in the South Bohemian town of Jindřichův Hradec and Jeseník in the north of the country, where joblessness fell by 18.2 and 14.6, respectively. Only the region of Prague recorded a slight rise in unemployment since March. The ratio of applicants to jobs was 16.4 on average nationwide, and employment offices provided support for nearly a third of those registered. The European statistical office puts the joblessness rate in the Czech Republic at 8.1% compared to the EU-wide average of 10%.
Some 200 people demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Agriculture on Monday to protest a multi-billion tender for forestry work announced by the state-owned company Lesy ČR. Minister Jakub Šebesta accepted a letter from the assembly calling for the immediate cancellation of the 16-billion-crown tender and changes to the organisation of public orders and the sale of wood through the National Forestry Programme. The tender has long been criticised by parliament and ecologists, who are concerned over what they see as potential privatisation national forestry. Mr Šebesta objected to the politicisation of the issue, pointing out that the protest was being held during an election campaign.
The government on Monday announced its long-term strategy for combating illegal drugs. The primary points of the eight-year plan are to decrease the availability of narcotics, limit experimentation and problem use and lessen their impact on society. Prime Minister Jan Fischer also told journalists that the cabinet intends to hold an expert seminar on the effects of the decision to not penalise people in possession of small amounts of certain drugs. The government has asked the head of its anti-drug council to submit a plan of action for the next two years before the summer holidays.
Town councillors in Stonava, located in the heavily industrialized eastern part of the country, have agreed to use municipal funds to pay for a fortnight’s health holiday for all the towns 122 children. The children are to spend a fortnights holiday at the seaside. The town’s major, Ondřej Fébr, said it was the least the town could do for its youngest inhabitants who were forced to live in one of the most polluted environments of Europe. Statistics show that the inhabitants of this region are more prone to certain health problems, such as asthma and allergies.
The winner of 16th annual Prague International Marathon is Eliud Kiptanui from Kenya, who covered the 42 kilometre distance in 2:05:39, a two minute improvement on last year’s record. The women’s race was won by Helena Kiprop, also a Kenyan representative. More than 8 thousand people took part in the longest Prague marathon, among them ice-skating champion Martina Sablíková and skier Lukáš Bauer. Many people only covered part of the distance, a shorter circuit for parent with children.