President Klaus on Friday signed into law a bill on direct presidential elections. The president, who technically does not have the right to veto the constitutional bill, signed it despite his negative stand to the proposed change. Mr. Klaus recently said a popular vote would turn the presidential election into an expensive superstar contest. Parliament still needs to pass a law clarifying the details of the new electoral procedure. Once this is done Czechs would be able to elect the next head of state in a direct vote. The next election is due in March of 2013 when President Klaus’ second term in office expires.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Friday a reform of the education system was essential for the country to remain competitive and would be implemented, despite protests from the academic community. Addressing a conference of rectors the prime minister said that one could not forever revise planned reforms and that action was long overdue. He stressed that the reforms made would not infringe on academic freedoms or threaten the autonomy of universities. In reference to the most controversial part of the planned reform –the introduction of tuition fees – Education Minister Josef Dobeš said he would once again consult the matter with the finance minister.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas is to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin next Thursday to discuss the Czech stand to the EU’s fiscal treaty. Mr. Nečas who joined British Prime Minister David Cameron in refusing to sign up to the compact, will also be meeting for consultations with his British counterpart ahead the fiscal union treaty summit on March 1st. Despite criticism from coalition partner TOP 09 and the opposition Social Democrats the Czech prime minister insists that the Czech Republic has nothing to lose since it can join the treaty anytime in the future and argues that in any case such a move should be preceded by a referendum since the treaty transfers certain national powers to the European level.
The Czech government should not join Britain in its negative stand on the EU fiscal treaty, according to opposition Social Democrat deputy head Lubomir Zaorálek. Mr. Zaorálek said Britain’s arguments against the treaty ensue from the country’s specific position in the EU, while the Czech negative position is unjustified and unclear and the country is therefore perceived as an unreadable and unreliable member of the alliance.
The presidential candidate who currently tops the polls with a 24 percent rating, former prime minister Jan Fischer, has told the internet news site lidovky.cz that if he were in office he would sign the EU’s fiscal pact. Asked to state his position on the matter, Mr. Fischer said that while he did not find the treaty in its present form ideal, it was certainly acceptable. The current president Vaclav Klaus is a fierce critic of further EU integration and has made it clear that he will not under any circumstances ratify the treaty.
There has been fresh criticism of a pardon granted by President Vaclav Klaus. It concerns Anna Benešová, former director of the private Metropolitan University in Prague, who was given a suspended sentence for bribery and fraud. The daily Lidové noviny noted on Friday that the woman pardoned had ties with the president’s wife Livia, and pointed out that the reason cited for her pardon, which was to enable her to care for her seriously ill husband, was nonsensical since a suspended sentence did not prevent her from doing so. The paper noted that the president’s pardon had given Benešová a clean criminal record.
Poor conditions continue on Czech roads, which have been plagued by heavy snow and ice since Wednesday. Traffic police reported problems on all main motorways on Friday and many roads in the higher altitudes are completely impassable. Rail and bus passengers are advised to check their itineraries as a number of routes are blocked by accidents or snow. With temperatures rising above zero during the day people in cities have been warned about falling snow and icicles from rooftops.
The mountain rescue service in the Krkonoše and Jeseníky mountains on Friday called a high degree avalanche alert. Rescuers say that in the wake of the thaw the danger of avalanches has become acute. Fresh snow and high winds are further complicating the situation. Skiers and snowboarders have been warned not to stray from marked trails and to always alert someone about their planned movements.
A train running from the ski resort of Harrachov to Tanvald is reported to have gone out of control due to break failure on Thursday. The train reportedly went through four stations at high speed and finally stopped at the bottom of a steep incline of the track. The matter is being investigated. A similar incident occurred in January. The Harrachov -Tanvalt track is the steepest rail route in the country.
A court has sentenced a twenty-six year old man to 12.5 years in prison for attempted murder on two counts and illegal possession of a firearm. The young man turned the gun against two homeless men who approached him to beg for money in June of last year. He shot both of them in the stomach. Were it not for passersby who called an ambulance the men would have died where he left them. Both underwent immediate surgery.