A Russian military airplane crashed while making a landing at the Čáslav air force base close to midday on Wednesday. The plane swerved off the landing strip and a fire broke out on board. Of the 23 passengers and crew, 7 are reported to have suffered serious burns and injuries. No deaths have been reported. The plane was carrying 14 Russians and 9 Czechs. There have been reports of landing gear failure.
The government on Wednesday approved a series of austerity measures for 2013 including a one percent hike in VAT to 15 and 21 percent respectively, fewer tax reliefs for entrepreneurs and no tax refunds on bio-fuel for farmers. The measures, which have yet to be approved by Parliament and signed into law by the president, should help bring the gap in public finances to below 3 percent of GDP.
The government’s decision to remove tax rebates on fuel and to introduce a consumption tax on wine was behind a nation-wide farmers’ protest held on Wednesday. Farmers brought out around 2,000 heavy farm vehicles such as tractors and harvesters on 185 roads across the country to deliberately slow traffic. The Association of Czech Farmers, which argues that the move will strip Czech farmers of their competitiveness within the EU, has warned that more protests will take place in the coming weeks and months.
The leadership of Public Affairs has voted to renew the membership of the party’s informal leader Vít Bárta who received an 18-month suspended sentence for corruption a few weeks ago. Bárta has also been assigned the task of coordinating the work of the party’s commission of experts. Public Affairs, which split and was forced into opposition by the scandal, is now trying to re-group and prepare for the autumn Senate and local elections. Party leader Radek John has said he will seek re-election at the party’s June conference.
A proposed re-distribution of tax revenue approved by the government on Wednesday would see bigger towns loose out to smaller ones. In line with an agreement reached between the governing parties smaller and medium sized towns would now get some 2,000 crowns more from state funds per inhabitant. If the amendment is approved by Parliament Prague would lose out on 650 million annually, Brno 203 million, Ostrava 158 and Plzen 90 million crowns less from state coffers as of 2013.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Wednesday he was not principally against letting David Rath, an MP who stands accused of corruption, defending himself in Parliament ahead of a vote by the lower house on whether he should be stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The prime minister said such a session would have to be closed to the media and public and the matter would have to be decided by some form of consensus between the parties represented in the lower house. Earlier this week parliament’s mandate and immunity committee heard Mr. Rath’s testimony at a villa belonging to the Interior Ministry rather than allowing him to enter parliament.
NGOs working to prevent child abuse report an alarming increase in such cases over the past decade. Zuzana Baudyšová from Our Child Foundation said at a press briefing in Prague on Wednesday that according to statistics compiled by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry the number of child abuse cases is now five times higher than it was 10 years ago. Presently the ministry registers 6642 cases of abused children, which Baudyšová fears may be the tip of the iceberg. She says that child-care in the Czech Republic has gradually worsened with more cases of abuse and neglect present stemming from frustration, overwork and stress on the part of parents.
The outcome of a survey conducted by the CVVM agency suggests that the opposition Social Democrats are gaining in strength. If elections were held today they would get 36.5 percent of the vote followed by the Communist party with 21.5 percent. The centre-right Civic Democrats have dropped to a two-year-low with 17 percent support. TOP 09 would get 10,5 percent and the Christian Democrats 5.5 percent.
Czech investor Zdeněk Bakala is planning to launch a bid for Polish chemicals group Ciech before the summer, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday citing unnamed banking sources. The news agency says that earlier this year, media reported that Bakala's BXR Group and its BXR Partners unit in Poland might be looking at three investments in Poland worth 100-300 million euros. Bakala, majority shareholder in Czech coal miner New World Resources had no immediate comment.
The vast majority of Czechs want smoke free restaurants. According to the latest survey results 78 percent of respondents –including many smokers – said they would welcome a smoking ban in restaurants across the board. Forty percent of Czech smokers would support such a ban. It is now up to individual restaurant and pub owners to decide whether or not to ban smoking. A large number of them fear that by doing so their would lose many regulars. Efforts to approve a smoking ban in eateries across the country have repeatedly failed in the past.