The Constitutional Court is expected to rule on Monday on the validity of the government’s austerity package for 2011 pushed through Parliament in a state of legislative emergency late last year. The court has been dealing with a complaint filed by the opposition Social Democrats who question the validity of the respective laws on the argument that there were no proper grounds for calling a state of legislative emergency at the time. The government resorted to the move shortly after the Senate elections in which the governing parties lost their majority in the upper chamber and the opposition threatened to block the bills.
Czech Defense Minister Alexander Vondra has condemned Friday’s military police raid at Czech Television, but said the leak of classified information from the defense ministry must be investigated. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Mr. Vondra said that the raid by a masked police commando had been a stupid demonstration of force for which he had suspended from office the military police chief and two commanders but he said that he could not and would not interfere in the investigation of how a classified defense ministry file had been leaked to a journalist. The file was reportedly linked to a military intelligence shakeup in 2007, in particular to the dismissal of former military intelligence head Miroslav Krejčík. Czech Television said it was filing a criminal complaint against the military police for abuse of authority and has demanded the immediate return of all confiscated computers, notebooks and phone numbers confiscated in the raid.
The Czech transport Ministry is preparing a series of tough amendments to the road law. Tailored according to similar legislation in the Netherlands, the bill includes tougher sanctions for practically all transgressions according to the existing points system, fines issued according to the driver’s income and a total ban on the use of cell phones, even with a hands-free device. Critics say the latter goes too far and that in most cases it will be impossible to prove to drivers that they were on the phone, but the ministry is standing behind its proposal saying that using a phone while driving is as dangerous to road safety as alcohol. The plan is aimed at radically improving safety on Czech roads which are considered to be one of the most dangerous in Europe.
Transport Minister Vit Barta said on Sunday that the government intended to regularly valorize old age pensions in order to make up for the planned hike in VAT. Speaking on Czech television Mr.Barta said socially weaker groups of the population would not be expected to shoulder the burden of a tax hike intended to help co-finance the planned pension reform. The government last week scaled back a plan to hike the value-added tax, agreeing to raise the lower rate from 10 to 14 percent in 2012 instead of unifying it with the top 20 percent rate. From 2013, both VAT rates should be unified at 17.5 percent. Even so, the plan has its critics who point out that a VAT hike was not essentially needed.
Salespeople at a supermarket in Hradec Kralove foiled an attempted armed robbery on Saturday. When a masked robber approached one of the sales counters brandishing a knife and what was later found to be a fake grenade, the salesman refused to hand over the cash and a nearby shop assistant called the police. The man was apprehended within minutes. No one was hurt in the incident. The robber, who says he acted out of desperation and needed the money for food, has been charged.
Five paintings from Alphons Mucha’s famous Slav Epic are to go on display at Prague’s Veletržní Palác in April, according to the head of the Prague Municipal Gallery which is now in charge of them. The first five paintings from the 20-piece epic were relocated to Prague a month ago despite protests from the town of Moravský Krumlov which has housed the collection for the last 47 years. The rest are to follow in the autumn. Several months ago, the city of Prague decided to claim its legacy from the Art Nouveau painter despite the fact that it has not yet fulfilled the condition under which Mucha bequeathed the paintings to Prague – that they would be displayed in a pavilion specially built to accommodate them. The Prague Municipal Gallery says the paintings are in very good condition and is awaiting permission to start restoration work expected to last no more than a fortnight.
The Slovak mountain rescue service on Saturday saved the life of two Czech ski alpinists who ran into trouble in the Tatra Mountains. The Czechs overestimated their strength and were unable to get back to camp. The rescue service found them an hour past midnight by which time one of them was unconscious and both were suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. The Slovak Rescue Service says Czechs are generally prone to taking extreme risks in the mountains.
The Czech prime minister has sent his condolences to the people of Japan,
following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the country.
In a letter to his Japanese counterpart Mr. Necas expressed his deepest
sympathies to those who had lost their loved ones, their homes and their
property. He said the thoughts of the Czech nation were with Japan at this
time of tragedy.
The Czech government has said it is ready to assist Japan in any possible way. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said the government was monitoring the situation closely and was ready to respond to any request made by the Japanese authorities. NGOs have also offered assistance.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said it had no reports of Czechs injured or killed in the Japanese disaster. The ministry said that according to available information there were about 250 Czechs permanently residing in the country, but that it had no information regarding the number of Czech tourists or their whereabouts at the time of the tragedy. According to the spokesman of the Czech Association of Travel Agencies Tomio Okamura there were likely to be hundreds of Czech tourists in Japan, but at present communication was highly problematic. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra which was in the south of the country at the time of the tragedy is reported to be safe.
Czech Defense Minister Alexander Vondra has suspended from office the head of the Czech military police Vladimir Ložek and two commanders over the storming of offices at Czech public television’s news desk on Friday. The incident happened during the station’s prime time newscast which broadcast live shots of a heavily armed and masked military commando forcing its way into the building and storming the office of three editors. The search took over five hours and the police eventually left with sacks of confiscated property including computers, notes, tapes film footage and contacts. The commando had a court order and was reportedly searching for a military intelligence file that one of the editors had previously acquired. Czech Television says it is filing criminal charges against the military police and has sent a letter of complaint to the prime minister. The head of Czech TVs news desk said the commando had taken information relating to news stories about the defense ministry that he feared could be misused.