Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Tuesday that he considers the controversy around Ladislav Bátora, the head of human resources at the Education Ministry, resolved. He added that he had been assured by officials from the government coalition’s TOP 09 party that they would attend a meeting of the cabinet scheduled for Wednesday. Previously, the party, which is led by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, had refused to attend cabinet meetings until Mr. Bátora was dismissed. Mr. Bátora came under fire for his past links to an ultra-right party and for making insulting remarks about the foreign minister online, sparking a row within the governing coalition. Education Minister Josef Dobeš of the Public Affairs party bowed to growing pressure for Mr. Bátora’s dismissal on Monday evening, saying that he would be transferred to a less prominent position.
The Czech lower house on Wednesday stripped MP Vít Bárta of the Public Affairs party, as well as the independent MP Jaroslav Škarka, of their criminal immunity, enabling criminal investigation. Both are suspected of corruption but deny their guilt; they had called on the lower house to strip them of their immunity. The opposition has voiced concern that the government will influence the criminal prosecution of Mr. Bárta, the de-facto leader of the junior government coalition party and former transport minister. This is the second time that the current lower house has voted on stripping a member of its criminal immunity. In late March, Parliament voted against this step in the case of the Public Affairs’ MP Stanislav Huml.
TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg has welcomed the news and thanked the education minister for being receptive to his arguments. Mr. Schwarzenberg said that for him this was not a personal dispute but a matter of principle which stemmed from his experience with the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as a child. The foreign minister said it was vital for the country’s democracy to defend human rights and to fight fascist tendencies at the outset. He confirmed that TOP 09 ministers would be attending the next cabinet session.
In a meeting with Czech ambassadors from around the world at Prague Castle on Tuesday, President Václav Klaus criticized the government’s foreign policy concept. Mr. Klaus, who received the Czech diplomats in town for a week-long meeting at Prague Castle, said that the government’s concept lacked content, did not address key questions and problematic areas of foreign policy. On Monday, Czech ambassadors met with Prime Minister Petr Nečas as well as Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. In addressing the country’s ambassadors, Mr. Nečas stressed the Czech Republic should support Europe’s quest for fiscal discipline, take a prudent stance regarding the adoption of the euro and forge stronger business links with potential partners outside Europe in view of the country’s export-oriented economy. In view of the present economic situation, the prime minister added that business diplomacy was of strategic importance. Mr. Schwarzenberg underlined the crucial role of European integration, a concept that the Czech president has criticized.
Doctors of Prague’s Bulovka hospital on Wednesday dismissed well-known Prague physician Jaroslav Barták from his post. Police are set to interrogate Mr. Barták and ask the state prosecutor’s office for permission to take the suspect into custody. He has been charged with several crimes, among them sexual coercion, rape, extortion, unlawful restraint, dangerous intimidation and bodily harm. According to a police spokeswoman, Mr. Barták is suspected of having sexually abused his assistants; six women have filed legal complaints against him. He denies the accusations, saying the women were prostitutes. He was detained and arrested at Ruzyně International Airport on his return from holiday on Saturday.
The anti-corruption initiative Citizens Against Corruption on Tuesday slammed a proposed change in public tender legislation. According to anti-corruption activists, the new law currently being debated by the government would not make the awarding of public tenders any more transparent. According to Karel Janeček of the Anticorruption Endowment Fund, it may even make it easier to cover up corruption. Non-government organizations have presented a proposal that they believe would improve the efficiency of anti-corruption legislation to the government.
Some 400 Muslims gathered in Brno on Tuesday to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan with a joint prayer session. Due to the high number of participants, the event could not be held at the country’s oldest Islamic house of prayer and instead had to be moved to the city’s Hotel International. The leader of Brno’s Muslim community, Munib Hassan, said that since the late nineties, the number of people who are of Muslim faith in the country has increased significantly and that due to the growth of the community, a permanent solution for holding larger events needs to be found. He added that space in the old mosque is not just a problem during holidays, but also during the traditional Friday prayer sessions, which are visited by some 150 to 200 people every week. However, finding a location for a new house of prayer in the city has been met with opposition by local politicians.
The initiative Auto*Mat organized a happening in Prague on Tuesday to propagate the transformation of the city’s Smetanovo nábřeží street, a stretch along the river near Charles Bridge, into a pedestrian zone. Participants wore masks featuring the face of Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda and symbolically opened a pedestrian zone along the riverbank, which draws a high number of tourists every day. Auto*Mat has put up a petition to transform the stretch into a pedestrian zone online. The initiative’s Vít Matare said that Smetanovo nábřeží was an embarrassment for the Czech capital. He said that the stretch along the river featured some of the city’s most beautiful sights, yet its appeal was marred by the many cars passing through it, as well as the frequent traffic jams. He added that in 2005, then mayor Pavel Bém had pledged to curb traffic along the river.
Two-fifths of all Czechs consider price the most important factor when shopping for various goods, according to a fresh poll by the multinational Henkel company published on Tuesday. The survey results indicate Czechs are more cost-conscious than Hungarian and Polish consumers. For 41 percent of the Czech population, the cost of a product is the decisive factor in purchasing, as compared to only 25 percent of Poles. By contrast, Austrian and German consumers are even more cost-conscious than Czechs, with 43 and 46 of those polled responding that they pay the most attention to the price of a given product, respectively. The survey also finds that Czechs are efficient and quick shoppers who rarely purchase more than they initially planned to.
An upper-circuit court in the Moravian city of Olomouc on Tuesday handed a prison sentence of 17 years to a 39-year-old man who was charged with brutally murdering his ex-wife. The man had appealed a previous verdict. The murder made headlines in June of last year. The defendant beat his ex-wife to death with a brick and set her body on fire in her car in the Moravian-Silesian city of Havířov.