Police have busted the biggest pot grow-op to date in the Czech Republic, near the western Bohemian city of Karlovy Vary, and freed a man who was being held captive inside the grow-op to tend the plants. It appears that the group treated the man, who was sealed-in, like a slave. He was glad to have been freed, a police spokesperson said on Thursday. Police arrested 13 suspects in connection with the case, which they investigated over a time span of several months. Over 5500 pot plants were confiscated; they would have yielded a total of 500 kilograms of marijuana, with a retail value of some 40 million Czech crowns. The suspects face prison sentences of up to 12 years.
The European Union has called on the Šumava park management to cease tree logging in certain areas of the national park. The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, in a letter expressed concern over the fact that the park’s management last year had felled trees in areas where protected species, such as the wood grouse, live and thereby had negatively impacted their natural environment. In the letter, the commissioner asks the park’s management to stop large-scale tree-logging. He adds that he cannot rule out legal proceedings in case of the Šumava national park management’s non-compliance. Last summer, the logging of bark-beetle infested trees in a protected area of the park was met with a massive wave of protests and blockades.
A group of Romany students has launched a “crisis response project” to improve the public image of Romanies in the Czech Republic and help ease tensions that have been building in Czech society. The group is hoping to cooperate with local and national state institutions. According to one of the members, David Tišer, some 160 young Romanies have joined the group so far. He added that the impulse to found the initiative had come from an incident that happened in Slovakia on the weekend. A police officer shot three Romanies and injured two others. Czech Romanies are also the target of violence, he added.
MP and former interior minister Radek John was on Wednesday re-elected the chairman of the Public Affairs party. In an on-line vote among some 800 party supporters, Mr John beat MP Kateřina Klasnová for the post by a narrow margin of some 2 percent. However, only 12.5 percent of registered party supporters took part in the vote. The Public Affairs party left the coalition earlier this year in the wake of a scandal that hit the party’s founder and unofficial leader, Vít Bárta who landed a conditional sentence for corruption.
According to a new survey by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer, only 49 percent of Czechs speak at least one foreign language, a score that puts the country below the EU average of 54 percent. The fresh poll found that the Czech Republic in this regard ranks only 19th among the 27 countries compared in the survey. In addition, the percentage of those Czechs who are able to speak one or more foreign languages has dropped: In 2005, some 51 percent of Czechs said they spoke two languages. The poll also found that Czechs are well aware of the advantages of mastering a foreign language: Ninety-eight percent said that they considered learning them something that would put their children at an advantage.
According to a fresh survey by the Public Opinion Research Center, the Social Democrats are losing voter support but would still win the elections if they were held today. In June, some 31 of women and men polled said they would cast their ballot in favor of the opposition party; in May, that figure was still at 36 percent. Among the other parties that would be able to secure seats in the lower house if elections were held today are the Civic Democrats, the TOP 09 part, the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats.
Czech police have charged six former managers of the coal-mining company Mostecká uhelná over their role in the firm’s privatization deal, Czech TV reported on Wednesday. The managers allegedly channeled funds earmarked for the revitalization of mining sites to bank accounts in Switzerland, and used some of them to buy the firm from the state. Swiss authorities last year charged seven people in the case which was also investigated by Czech police but shelved in 2009 due to lack of evidence.
An ossuary under St Jacob’s church in Brno opened after renovation to the public on Wednesday. The ossuary, which was established in the late 18th century, contains the skeletal remains of some 50,000 people which make it the second biggest ossuary in Europe, according to the ČTK news agency. Brno Mayor Roman Onderka said the ossuary should become an interesting site for tourists as well as a spiritual place.
The captain of the Czech national team, Tomáš Rosický, will not be in the starting line-up of Thursday’s match against Portugal. The manager of the Czech team, Vladimír Šmicer, told Czech TV that the team captain may join the team at a later point in the quarter finals game but that he is still fighting an Achilles heel infection. Šmicer, a former successful midfielder for Slavia Prague and Liverpool FC, has not released any further details regarding the starting line-up. Mr Rosický last Sunday travelled to Prague for treatment; on Tuesday, he returned to Poland and trained with his team mates on Wednesday.
Some 20,000 Czech fans are expected to travel to Warsaw for their team’s quarter final match against Portugal on Thursday evening. Fans left the cities of Prague and Brno on special fan busses on Thursday; hundreds of supporters of the Czech team are travelling to Poland by train. In Warsaw, they will be greeted with Czech-language signs, city officials have said. However, it is expected that the fan turn-out at the Warsaw match will be lower than it was during the group phase games in Wroclaw, which is easier to reach from the Czech Republic.