An opinion survey by the polling agency STEM reflecting the popularity of Czech politicians indicates falling support for prime minister and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas and foreign minister and TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg. The prime minister’s support rating has dropped from 49 percent in November to 41 percent at the beginning of January. Minister Schwarzenberg’s popularity is on a similar decline. The country’s most popular politicians at present are the two main rivals for the post of Social Democrat leader – the party’s acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka and governor of south Moravia Michal Hašek.
An eight-month-old baby boy was airlifted to hospital on Friday after an accident in which he suffered severe burns to 30 percent of his body. The child was reportedly leaning on a kitchen counter and overturned an electric kettle on himself full of boiling hot water. A hospital spokeswoman said the child was in critical condition after suffering second degree burns on his face, chest and back. Police are investigating the incident on suspicion of negligence.
The Czech Foreign Ministry inadvertently blocked a US attempt to acquire Russian air-to-ground missiles through intermediaries according to US diplomatic cables leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks. The US navy in 2005 wanted to get its hands on 23 Russian Ch-31 missiles due to the technology that gave them high speed and accuracy. It first tried to acquire them through Ukraine and when these attempts failed turned to Belarus. A Czech middleman arms dealer was lined up to take the missiles and send them on to the US with their origin described as Ukraine as a way of getting around a US embargo on arms imports from Belarus. The plans however came unstuck when Czech officials, apparently uniformed about the complex dealings, refused to grant an export licence.
The Palestinian press agency PalPress reports that representatives of the Israeli secret service Mossad have been meeting with leaders of the Palestinian Hamas party in the Czech Republic. Citing “official European sources”, PalPress reports that the meeting focused on the armistice in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the prevention of missile attacks on Israel. No information regarding the meeting could be gleaned from the relevant officials on the Czech or Palestinian sides. At least one Israeli paper questioned the credibility of the report, suggesting the information could be a move by the moderate Palestinian party Fatah to reduce the credibility of Hamas, which figures on the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist organisations.
The daily Mlada fronta Dnes reports that representatives of the Social Democratic Party indirectly received high commissions for the privatisation of the coal mining firm Mostecka uhelna spolecnost in 1999 and 2000. According to Mlada fronta, over 30 million crowns went to a company that employed former Social Democrat treasurer Zdenek Uhlir and that subsequently sent 10 million to a foundation headed by the party’s then interior minister Stanislav Gross. Swiss authorities investigated the 1999sale of MUS over suspected money laundering. They revealed that a Swiss company had bought a 46% stake in MUS for 650 million crowns and sent a 27% commission to a Gibraltar account. The investigation indicated that a part of this money went to people close to Mr Gross. He himself claims to know nothing about such a commission.
Prague hosted the world premiere on Thursday of a documentary film about 101-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued hundreds of Czechoslovak Jewish children from the onslaught of World War Two. “Nicky's Family”, by Slovak director Matej Minac, includes facts and testimonies about Winton's rescue plan that have not been made public so far. Following the event, Senate deputy chairman Přemysl Sobotka offered his nomination of Sir Winton for the Nobel Peace Prize to the Norwegian Ambassador, accompanied by a petition signed by 100,000 Czech children. Nicholas Winton exerted great effort to save a total of 669 Jewish children who were transported to Britain before the war broke out. Their descendants number over 5,000.
Health Minister Leoš Heger is to meet with officials from the union of doctors and the Czech Medical Chamber on Thursday for the first official talks regarding a mass resignation of doctors. Mr Heger has said he will ask the prime minister to give protesting doctors a guarantee of higher wages once the health care system is reformed and has offered to resign if that will resolve the situation. He also hopes an anticorruption plan to be presented on Thursday will eventually yield more money for the system. Some 3800 hospital doctors have resigned en mass to protest salary conditions that are significantly below Western European standards.
Minister Heger’s new anti-corruption strategy stipulates that public tenders at the Ministry of Health in excess of one million crowns will now have to be approved by the minister personally. All tenders exceeding 50,000 crowns will be published electronically. The strategy also establishes a register of reference prices and restricts the travel expenses of doctors attending conferences on company money. Corruption watchdog Transparency International says that lack of transparency and corruption in health care costs the system 27 billion crowns yearly, roughly a tenth of its budget.
The candidate selected as the country’s new chief of police, Petr Lessy, outlined has some of his top priorities, saying he wants an apolitical police force that will cease to be a "target of political speculation". Mr Lessy said better communication within the force was a necessity and that the coming year would be about surviving amid massive budget cuts. The recommendation of Mr Lessy as chief of police must still be cleared by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who has thrown doubt upon the selection procedure, which was proposed by the Interior Minister and has divided the governing coalition. Legal experts have expressed the view that the selection committee might even be in breach of the law.
The Ministry of Defence has reduced the ranks of over half of soldiers currently in service. The changes were made in order to conform to the NATO ranking system, from which the Czech system differed and was a source of confusion. Three ranks were removed while another five were reinstated, in all affecting some 14,000 soldiers, or 60% of the army. A small percent also have faced wage reductions as a result of decreased rank, while nearly 800 were effectively promoted. According to the former system, soldiers of the lowest positions were entitled to ranks used elsewhere by experienced non-commissioned officers. Insignias have also been changed at a cost of several million crowns. Chief warrant officers for example previously wore three silver stars, which other NATO soldiers interpreted as the mark of a three star general.