Czech émigré author and co-founder of '68 Publishers Josef Škvorecký has died in Toronto at the age of 87. He had been suffering from cancer, the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail reported. Mr Škvorecký, renowned for such works as The Cowards and The Engineer of Human Souls, left Czechoslovakia with his wife Zdena Salivarová after the Soviet-led invasion in 1968 that crushed the Prague Spring. Together, they founded '68 Publishers in Toronto in 1971, publishing Czech and Slovak books banned in his homeland, including works by Milan Kundera and Václav Havel – who later became the Czech Republic’s first president. Mr Škvorecký's own work was also banned by the communist regime. The writer, who is survived by his wife, received the Governor-General’s award in 1984.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has met with Prime Minister Petr Nečas to explain irregularities in EU-funded projects uncovered by auditors in Brussels. A week or so ago auditors advised that all further payments from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme be frozen until the matter was investigated and fully explained; the Education Ministry can draw the equivalent of up to 53 billion crowns from this source. In their meeting Mr Dobeš explained to the prime minister that the problem was a technical one, and he promised the matter would be rectified by April to avoid payments being cut. At a press conference, Mr Dobeš also explained that only some of the problems were tied to the current administration, while others dated back to the previous government in 2008/2009. In addition to clearing up the situation, the education minister has been asked to maintain greater stability of personnel regarding the operational programme: recently the ministry’s fifth head of section in charge of EU funds resigned after just eight working days.
Most Social Democrat senators will support a bill paving the way for direct presidential elections, Senate chairman Milan Štěch said after a traditional New Year´s lunch he had with President Václav Klaus and Chamber of Deputies head Miroslava Němcová on Tuesday. Mrs Němcová, however, said it was no secret members of her party – the right-of-centre Civic Democrats – were divided over the issue. In her view, the current system, which brings together both houses of Parliament to elect the head-of-state, had produced two successful presidents, referring to Václav Havel, who died last month, and Mr Klaus, who will complete his final term in office in early 2013. Mr Štech said he believed the constitutional bill will be passed by the Senate if a majority of senators from other groups supported it as well; his party holds a majority in the Senate. The bill has already been passed by the Chamber of Deputies but has come under fire from the current president, who has charged it would turn the election process into the into a ‘Pop Idol’ contest. Most ordinary Czechs, though, are in favour of direct presidential elections.
The Czech Republic will pay roughly 170 million crowns for the period from 2011 to 2013 for its participation in NATO’s AWACS (or airborne early warning and control system) the Czech news agency reported. The funds will be used in the administrative budget and go towards modernisation of the system, ČTK said, citing Defence Ministry documents. Those are to be discussed by the cabinet in its regular meeting on Wednesday. The Czech Republic joined the project in December of 2010; the country has four representatives involved: a pilot, a navigator, a member of the onboard command centre and a systems operator. Four more Czech soldiers to take part are currently undergoing training.
President Václav Klaus appointed 12 new judges in Prague on Tuesday. At a ceremony at Prague Castle, the president acknowledged that the group originally should have been named earlier but nevertheless wished them well in what he called difficult tasks. The president has criticised for some time now the growing number of judges, saying that most posts had already been filled and the number of new appointees should not grow significantly.
A new poll by the Media Research agency has suggested that a majority of Czechs – 83 percent – are worried a renewed economic crisis will hit the Czech Republic. Most, however, favour solutions affecting only some social groups, such as the rich, who they feel could be more heavily taxed or civil servants, who could be laid off. Many of those queried rejected solutions such as cuts into monthly pensions. According to the poll, 60 percent said they were putting savings aside. The results were published a day after the country’s finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, warned the Czech economy could contract by up to 2 percent in 2012, meaning the state budget could lose between 30 and 50 billion crowns.
Brno’s Municipal Court sentenced former trolleybus driver Milan Hladký to 3 years and four months in prison for ignoring a red light at an intersection last year that caused a collision with a passing tram. Thirteen people were injured in the accident and one person, a 77-year-old man, died. In its ruling, the court also banned Mr Hladký from driving for five years. The former trolleybus driver has suffered from clinical depression since the accident and receives regular treatment. He says he does not understand how it happened, stressing he would never knowingly ignore a red light. Witnesses, though, described his driving ahead of the tragedy as “sharp” and “aggressive”.
The State Institute for Drug Control has called on Czech women who received breast implants made by French manufacturer PIP to undergo medical examination, the news site idnes has reported. The implants by PIP are suspected of being potentially carcinogenic and are reportedly more likely to split and leak than other kinds. Despite the scare, the Czech State Institute for Drug Control has not registered any serious cases thus far. At least one plastic surgeon said that the implants had been used successfully in the Czech Republic for several years. The brand implants were exported to 65 countries worldwide.
The regional court in Ostrava has sentenced a 59-year-old recidivist to 18 years in prison for a murder committed in jealous rage. Two years ago the convicted man, Alexandr Baláž, threw another man on the floor in his apartment and stomped on his stomach, later claiming the victim - a supposed friend - had behaved inappropriately towards his girlfriend. The man suffered fatal internal injuries. The incident came several months after Baláž was charged in a case of domestic violence against his girlfriend, in which he broke her jaw. Throughout the trial the suspect claimed he was innocent; Tuesday’s ruling can still be appealed.
The Czech national squad lost to Russia 2:1 in overtime at the quarterfinals of the world junior hockey championships in Canada on Monday. The Czechs put up one of their best performance of the tournament, going ahead in the 28th minute. But the Russian team soon equalized. The game went into overtime but the Czech goalie failed to block a shot from the blue-line area. The Czechs will now play Slovakia for the 5th spot.