Army general Vlastimil Picek is to be the country’s new defense minister, according to government sources cited by the CTK news agency. The former army chief of staff, who currently serves as deputy defense minister, is a widely respected expert in the field though his appointment to the post is vehemently opposed by the smallest party in government LIDEM which wanted a civilian to lead the Czech Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Petr Nečas who has in vain sought a suitable civilian candidate for the post since it was vacated last Christmas, has strongly advocated the general’s appointment and has reportedly won over the TOP 09 party for the idea. TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg said earlier this week a decision needed to be made fast since the present situation was unsustainable. The coalition had come under fire both from the military and from opposition benches for procrastinating in filling a crucial government post.
Politicians and church dignitaries have welcomed the election of Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as Pope. President Miloš Zeman sent the Pontiff a letter of congratulations and extended an official invitation for him to attend the 2013 celebrations marking the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of the Christian missionaries SS Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he had received the news of Pope Francis’ election with genuine pleasure and wished him sound health and strength in facing the challenges ahead.
Cardinal Dominik Duka said the choice of a pope from Latin America was a natural and right development in view of the prevalence of non-European Catholics in the world and the existing disproportion in their representation in the Church leadership. The Archbishop of Olomouc Jan Graubner suggested the election of the first non-European pope indicated a shift in the Roman Catholic Church to more openness and awareness of “what is important on a global scale”. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk pointed out that the name Archbishop Bergoglio had chosen – evoking both St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier – reflected his humble character. Church bells rang out around the Czech Republic on Wednesday evening in celebration of the new Pope.
Senate Chairman Milan Štěch has asked Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman to check if the prime minister did not break the law by counter-signing the controversial amnesty declared by the former president Vaclav Klaus without consulting the entire cabinet. The controversial amnesty led the Senate to file charges of treason against the former president at the Constitutional Court on the grounds that he had overstepped his mandate. The Senate chair points out that according to the Czech Constitution it is the government which is ultimately responsible for the declared amnesty and the prime minister may be guilty of abuse of office for co-signing the document without question.
Two Czech women are reported to have been kidnapped in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, close to the Iranian border. The Czech Foreign Ministry said the two tourists - believed to be in their mid-twenties - were kidnapped on Wednesday evening after a van they were travelling in was stopped by unknown assailants. The group took them out of the van together with their guard, who was later released. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping or made any demand for ransom. There is speculation they could have been abducted to Afghanistan. The ministry has not revealed the identity of the hostages. A French man was abducted in the same place two years ago and was released a month later.
The visiting British royals, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie on Thursday visited Prague’s Jedličkuv Institute for children with physical disabilities established in 1913. They were giveuv a tour of the complex, stopped to chat with the children and planted a fir tree in honour of the 100-year anniversary of the institute. Prince Edward later attended an event at the Prague British School and Countess Sophie visited the British Council to see a short performance inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and presented by students. The British royal couple is due to fly back to London on Thursday evening. Their packed two-day agenda included a reception at Prague Castle, a tour of the city’s prominent historic sites and a visit to the Sue-Ryder home for the elderly.
Two Prague restaurants – the Alcron and Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise –have held onto the Michelin stars they were first awarded last year. Both restaurants are run by Czech chefs. Alcron has been run by Roman Paulus since 2008 and La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise by Oldřich Sahajdák since 2006. Several other restaurants were awarded in the Bib Gourmand category: SaSaZu, Le Terroir, Aromi, Divinis and Sansho.
Czech retail sales, both adjusted and non-adjusted for working days, fell by 0.5 percent year-on-year in January, compared with a drop of 4.9 percent in the previous month, the Czech Statistical Office said on Thursday. The result was affected mainly by lower sales in the automotive segment, while a growth in the retail trade segment moderated the fall. Adjusted for seasonal influences, sales in retail trade, including sale and repair of motor vehicles, increased by 0.4 percent at constant prices month-on-month in January.
President Miloš Zeman on Thursday appointed Vratislav Mynář, head of the Party of Citizens´ Rights of Miloš Zeman(SPOZ), his chancellor. The new head of state has gone out of his way to rule out any favouritism for the political party set up by his supporters of which he is still honorary chairman. The two men, who cooperated closely in the past, have already had their first public tiff over the matter. As SPOZ leader, Mynář considered using his new post to promote the party ahead of the mid-2014 general elections. The president made it clear the post of Chancellor of the Office of the President would not be used to promote any political party and said that if Mynář accepted his offer he would expect him to resign as party leader.