President Miloš Zeman met with former finance minister Jiří Rusnok on Friday to discuss the setting up of a special fund, where the president is planning to deposit 30% of his monthly salary as a symbolic contribution towards repaying the Czech national debt, which last year amounted to almost 1,700 billion crowns. In addition to donating a portion of his own monthly salary, which totals over 300,000 crowns, President Zeman is planning to encourage other potential donors to follow his example.
The police closed down part of the busy Národní street in the center of Prague on Friday morning, because of a suspicious black suitcase, which was discovered during a regular patrol of the area. While explosives experts were retrieving the object, a part of the street was cordoned off and police were re-routing traffic. The police bomb disposal unit transported the suitcase to a safe location for investigation, after which the street was reopened.
The mayor of the town Hostivice near Prague has filed criminal charges against an unknown perpetrator at the Prague regional court who disclosed personal details of the defendants in the case against the former Central Bohemia governor David Rath. The mayor of the town where Mr Rath has permanent residency claims that the regional court violated the privacy law by releasing to the public information about all of the 11 people accused in the ongoing case.
A Prague municipal court ruled for the plaintiff on Thursday in the first of thousands of ongoing court cases against banks and lending institutions. Michal Novák will receive 4,200 crowns from Hypoteční banka as compensation for being charged a maintenance fee for his loan account. Around 130 thousand clients have filed similar charges against major financial institutions from which they had taken out loans or mortgages and this decision may serve as a precedent for upcoming trials.
The number of seniors in the Czech Republic using mobile phones and the internet has increased dramatically in the past decade, according to a recent study by the Czech Statistical Office. Ten years ago one-fifth of all Czechs aged 65 and older used mobile phones, today they are used by 84% of that age group and around 17% percent use the internet. The biggest jump in cell phone use is among 75-year-olds and older. Whereas in 2007, less than 30% of that group were using mobile phones, today it is around 70%.
Prague’s fairgrounds are hosting a festival of healthy living called Festival Evolution from Friday to Sunday. This is an umbrella event for four related exhibits focused on organic food, sustainable energy use, personal development and alternative lifestyles. The event is open to the public and offers hundreds of stands, workshops and lectures.
President Zeman met with Cardinal Dominik Duka on Friday to draft an invitation addressed to Pope Francis for the celebration of the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Cyril and Methodius in the Great Moravian Empire, which will take place in July in Velehrad in eastern Moravia. Czech church officials had invited Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration before he stepped down, and now want to urge the newly elected pope to attend the event. The Pope’s secretary has said that so far the head of the Catholic Church has the dates of the celebration free, but did not confirm if the Pope is planning to attend.
The Czech ambassador to the US, Petr Gandalovič, is in West, Texas providing assistance to Czech-Americans in the wake of Wednesday’s devastating fertilizer plant explosion. According to local police sources 15 people were killed in the blast, over a hundred were injured and many people have been left homeless. West has some 2,700 residents and is home to large community of Czech immigrants. A number of Czech-Americans are reported to have been among the firefighters who fought the blaze.
Health Minister Leoš Heger on Thursday announced several hospital mergers in connection with the government’s austerity measures. The health minister said the planned mergers would save the health sector approximately 60 million crowns annually. Among others the Prague Rheumatology Institute is to merge with Prague’s General Teaching Hospital and in Brno two teaching hospitals are to merge with the Brno Centre for Cardiology and Transplant Medicine. The move has come under fire from the opposition which says it will lower the quality of health care, extend the waiting period for operations and reduce the number of hospital beds for patients.
The Energy Regulatory Office has launched an inspection into dozens of solar plants which received a license to operate in late 2010 just ahead of a significant drop in state subsidies. According to ERU reports some solar plant owners filed an application on December 30th and received positive confirmation of their request within 24 hours on the last day of the year. The police are also on the case. An internal audit at the Energy Regulatory Office earlier this year indicated that former employees may have illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants. The suspected scams involving solar energy are said to have incurred damages worth tens of billions of crowns.