Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced today that his cabinet is in favor of the Czech Senate’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would divest members of both houses of parliament and the constitutional court judges of life-long immunity. The government had previously supported a similar proposal by a group of MPs. In both cases, cabinet members suggested that the new rules should apply to newly elected officials not to current ones. Both of the submitted proposals want to change the current practice according to which MPs or Senators cannot be tried for criminal offenses at any time, if a parliamentary committee confirms their immunity. The new proposal would give immunity to lawmakers and judges only for the duration of their term, if the lower or upper house do not retract their immunity.
Czech President Václav Klaus has expressed great concern over the dismissal of Police President Petr Lessy on Wednesday. Apparently, the president was not made aware of this crucial move, and the quick naming of Mr Lessy’s deputy Martin Červíček as replacement. President Klaus said in a statement that the interior minister’s decision “will destabilize not only the police force, but the whole of the Czech political sphere as well.” According to Interior Minister Jan Kubice, the Prime Minister Petr Nečas was also not informed of this move beforehand.
The government approved on a new regulation that states that patients sets a specific distance within which providers of medical services can be reached and changes the waiting time for certain operation. The directive, that was submitted by Health Minister Leoš Heger and was approved on Wednesday, guarantees that patients should be able to reach their general practioners, dentists, gynecologists, and pharmacies at most within 35 minutes by car, and shortens the maximum waiting period for operations like knee and hip replacements or mammograms. Waiting periods for some medical procedures were increased. Unions, the National Disability Council and the Czech Association of Patients criticized the establishment of a distance for practitioners claiming this will allow health insurance companies to terminate contracts with some doctors and hospitals.
The Czech government approved a budget for aid to Afghanistan for the period 2014-2017 on Wednesday. The Czech Republic will give a total of 80 million crowns for development projects and 60 million more to support security forces in Afghanistan. The newly structured funds are meant to substitute the work of Czech Army’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Logar province, which is part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission. The Czech team is set to leave Afghanistan in the middle of next year.
City officials in Ostrava has requested a district court to rule on the ownership rights of the defunct sewer in the Přednádraží district, where a slum is located. The Přednádraží slum, that has been occupied primarily by Romani tenants, has been at the center of month-long controversy. City officials have been trying to get residents to leave the slum buildings that have fallen into disrepair and have been deemed uninhabitable. The buildings’ owner, who has been issued with a fine, claimed he is willing to carry out necessary repairs as long as the city fixes the sewage system, which does not belong to him. City officials have claim that this particular section of the sewage does not belong to the city either. Approximately 100 people remain in some of the buildings without running water or other amenities for almost a month.
The national tourism agency CzechTourism is launching a new campaign to promote the country abroad. Magazine and newspaper ads in different countries refer to well-know historical figures from those nations that have visited the Czech Republic. German tourists will read about Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s amorous adventures in Mariánské Lázně; French readers will be beckoned to visit the country by learning about how Guillaume Apollinaire was so inspired by Prague that he wrote his famous story Prague Walker in two days. The campaign will also extend to Czech tourist and will cover all the regions of the country.
The core of Russian intelligence services' interest in the Czech Republic in 2011 focussed on politics and the economy, Czech Military Intelligence says in its annual report released on Tuesday. By contrast, Chinese intelligence services were reportedly most active in technological espionage. Military Intelligence also detected activities by intelligence services from the Middle East, an unclassified part of the report revealed. According to the Czech civilian counter-intelligence service BIS´s annual report released last week, Russian agents were mainly interested in information linked to the expansion of the Temelin nuclear power plant, south Bohemia; a Czech-Russian consortium is one of three bidders in the ongoing tender.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has expressed concern over
recent developments in Russia, including what he called a tightening of
conditions and the restraint of expression by civic groups. Taking part in
a meeting of diplomats at Prague’s Černín Palace on Tuesday, the
foreign minister suggested in some ways it was as if the country was
heading back to the time of the Tsars. At the same time, the foreign
minister stressed that Prague had an eminent interest in strong ties with
Moscow; he called Russia a key power and partner.
The foreign minister on Tuesday also reflected on the recent sentencing of members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot to two years in prison. Mr Schwarzenberg has consistently supported the trio and on Tuesday he compared their performance in Moscow, which landed them jail time, to social happenings in Europe 40 years ago that led to greater emancipation.
The Czech Union for Nature Conservation has expressed concern that Šumava National Park could decline as a result of an Environment Ministry plan, which – it says – will enable uncontrolled construction and put local town interests above nature conservation. The union’s chairman Libor Ambrožek, a former environment minister, told the Czech news agency that conservation in the national park would decline to such a degree it would no longer meet national park criteria. The organisation has sent an open letter to politicians, political parties, as well as the Association of Towns and the Association of Regions to try and fuel broader discussion. Under the bill, the most-protected area of the park, which forms 22.1 percent, will be allowed spontaneous development with a further 8.9 percent being added. The Czech news agency reported that over 45 years the most protected zone will grow to 24,000 hectares. Critics nevertheless charge that other interests in the area are being given equal treatment as nature conservation. A provision in the bill, for example, allows for the construction of a ski lift in another part of the park.
Police have blocked an estimated 15 million crowns belonging to MP and former Central Bohemian governor David Rath and his wife, according to sources including Czech news website idnes. The funds were deposited in the safekeeping of Mr Rath’s lawyer Adam Černý. Mr Rath is being held in custody on corruption charges; he was caught by police with an alleged seven million crown bribe on his person in May. His lawyer Adam Černý refused to confirm the exact amount but called steps taken by the police “intimidation” and “chicanery”; he added it was likely he would put forward a complaint after discussing the matter with his client. He will have three days to do so. The lower house is to meet at the beginning of September to decide whether or not to strip Mr Rath of immunity so he can face additional charges.