Former prime minister and presidential candidate Jan Fischer has opened his first election office in Prague’s Žižkov district, where he will meet with citizens and representatives of various organisations. A statistician, Mr Fischer was appointed to run an interim technocratic government in 2009; he has since led the polls in political popularity and has a strong lead over the other candidates for president, among them economist Jan Švejnar, former PM Miloš Zeman and TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg. The first direct election of the Czech president will take place in early 2013.
Temperatures broke records across the Czech Republic on Friday and Saturday, reaching 30° Celsius in places. The Clementinum in Prague, which has been noting temperatures since 1775, registered 27.7° on Saturday, which broke a 212-year-old record of 25,9°. The highest readings were made in the West Bohemian city of Plzeň where the temperature reached 30.1° C, nearly four degrees above the record. Meteorologists say the heat wave could last through Monday in the eastern part of the country. With 138 cm of snow still on the ground in some mountain areas, avalanche areas have been put on alert.
A number of carbon monoxide poisonings were reported in Prague on Friday, as the sharp rise in temperature caused leaks from unsealed gas water heaters and flues. Nine people were reportedly injured, among them three minors. Rescue services say the problem is annual and is caused by low atmospheric pressure combined with high temperatures, but the number of people affected on Friday was extra-ordinary. People are advised to set up sensors to detect the gas, which is odourless.
Supporters of the Occupy movement held a demonstration in Prague’s Lesser Quarter on Saturday; the group plans to stay on Klárov green until May 12. Several tents have been erected and discussions, lectures and other events are to take place. Speakers at the protest camp are pushing for political change and drawing attention to the part of banks and politicians in the global economic crisis. Some of the demonstrators also came out against the controversial ACTA treaty.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas has won a
confidence vote in the lower house, receiving 105 votes in favour and 93
against. The result came shortly after eight pm on Friday after some 11
hours of deliberation by dozens of MPs, including opposition members who
slammed the government, arguing it had lost the right to lead. Friday’s
vote was called by the prime minister to test support for his government
after the splintering of the smallest coalition partner, Public Affairs,
over a corruption scandal.
On Friday, it received crucial backing from a newly-emerged faction around Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake, who defected from Public Affairs, as well as two independent deputies and three Public Affairs members. Despite the result, observers say it will prove harder for the government to find support for its reforms.
The cabinet has come under fire from the opposition and trade unions for austerity cuts it says are necessary to help bring the budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP. Around 100,000 people took to the streets of the Czech capital last weekend to protest the austerity measures in one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of communism.
Trade union representatives and activists from the Stop vládě (Stop the government) movement agreed on Friday on additional protests against the country’s centre-right government, which would build up to a strike at the end of June. Jaroslav Zavadil, the head of the trades unions’ umbrella organisation ČMKOS, revealed the news but declined to provide additional details concerning different protest events. He did say that members of both camps would prepare a new coordination centre to prepare activities. Earlier this week, union representatives warned the government that the next protests would “hurt”.
Czech Radio will launch a new largely spoken-word station later in 2012 – merging three stations – Leonardo, Rádio Česko and Czech Radio 6 – in one. The move is in part reaction to a drop in listenership and will be accompanied by restructuring at Czech Radio that will also lead to layoffs. A projected 15 – 20 percent of employees (one fifth) will be let go over the next two years, the head of Czech Radio Peter Duhan confirmed. The new station, operatively being called Czech Radio 4, will be launched either on the first of November or December of this year. Along with the changes, on Thursday the Czech Radio Council also approved a 340,000 crown bonus for the head of Czech Radio in the 2Q, minus a reported 60,000 as Czech Radio has failed to corner 21 percent of the market. Czech Radio will also launch a tender for a new logo.
Ecological activists from Friends of the Earth have awarded Jan Stráský,
the head of Šumava National Park, this year’s Ropák (Oil Guzzler)
anti-award for most damaging environmental policies. The organisation said
that they had chosen from among 24 candidates that also included
chief hygiene officer, the environment minister and the country’s
president; but Mr Strásky’s name came up the most.
The activists slammed him for allegedly damaging the good name of the national park, and for taking questionable steps in care which – they argued – had hurt the local ecosystem. They also criticised his calling in the police during past activist protests; the national park head countered by saying that the charges contained many inaccuracies – stressing that if he had upset the group he had probably done something right. The Ropák anti-award takes its name from a fictional creature that survives on industrial waste; the animal was invented by Czech filmmaker Jan Svěrák.
The National Reference Laboratory for HIV/AIDS has revealed that the first three months of 2012 doctors registered 44 new cases of HIV infection, mostly among men. During that period, experts tested around 316,900 people, according to numbers released by the public health laboratory on Friday. This year’s increase in the first quarter represents a two-year high: in 2011 there were 35 new cases and a year before that, 42. The number of HIV cases in the Czech Republic has increased yearly over the last decade.
The country’s health ministry has warned that over the next few days there will be a heightened risk of contracting ticks as warm weather sets in. According to the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, the threat merits an “8” on a 9-point scale on Saturday and will rise to the top of the scale on Monday. The weekend is expected to see very warm temperatures, ideal for the external parasite which is capable of transmitting Lyme borreliosis and encephalitis. This year 378 cases of borreliosis have been registered so far – up by 69 from the same period last year. Two cases of tick-borne encephalitis have been registered – down from five over the same period last year. Anyone spending time in parks or the countryside at the weekend has been urged to use proper repellents to cut-down the risk.