Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka ushered 10 out of 16 ministers of the new Czech government in office on Thursday, a day after the cabinet was appointed by President Zeman. Among the officials who assumed their offices on Thursday are Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, Lubomír Zaorálek who took over the Foreign Ministry, Jan Mládek who is charge of the industry and trade portfolio, Agriculture Minister Marián Jurečka, Justice Minister Helena Válková, and others. The remaining six ministers will be ushered in office on Friday.
Finance Minister Andrej Babiš’ alleged collaboration with former Czechoslovakia’s communist secret police, the StB, is irrelevant to his position in the government, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said. A court in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Thursday heard a lawsuit filed by Mr Babiš against the country’s National Memory Institute, demanding he be erased from a list of StB collaborators. The institute says the Slovak-born minister in the 1980s informed on some of his colleagues in the company he worked at that time, a claim denied by Mr Babiš. Prime Minister Sobotka said Czech voters were aware of the allegations ahead of October’s election in which Mr Babiš’ party won nearly 19 percent of the vote, becoming the Czech Republic’s second strongest party.
On his first foreign trip after the creation of his new government, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Wednesday night flew to Budapest for a special meeting of Visegrad Group countries over the situation in Ukraine. Prime ministers from the four countries welcomed the latest steps to defuse tension in the country. These include the Ukrainian parliament’s approval for an amnesty for protesters held in detention. Sobotka said that he wanted to push for more coordination with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia on issues of common EU interest. The Czech prime minister’s first official visit will be to Slovakia with details of the trip to be revealed in a few days, Sobotka said.
MP Jiří Pospíšil has quit the Civic Democratic Party, the former justice minister said in a statement on Thursday. The popular politician, who unsuccessfully ran for re-election as Civic Democrat deputy chair earlier this month, said he had lost the trust of party members and officials, adding that his departure would make the party more united. Mr Pospíšil, who said he would remain member of Parliament, is credited with untying the hands of prosecutors to investigate high-profile corruption cases, a move that many Civic Democrats believe hurt the party.
In related news, voter support for the right-of-centre Civic Democrats continues to fall, according to a new survey by the CVVM agency released on Thursday. The survey found some 5 percent of voters would now support the party, down from 7.7 percent it received in October’s election. Earlier this month, the Civic Democrats elected a new chairman, Petr Fiala, in an attempt to revive the party. In the survey, the Social Democrats came on top with 27 percent, followed by ANO with 25 percent and the Communist Party with 14.5 percent of voter support.
President Miloš Zeman on Thursday met with Armenia’s head of state, Serzh Sargsyan, in Prague on Thursday. The officials discussed economic cooperation between the two coutnries, and signed a series of agreements, including a memorandum on customs cooperation. The Armenian president, who is in the Czech Republic on an official visit, also met with some ministers of the new government. Mr Zeman accepted his invitation to visit Armenia.
The Czech mortgage market grew by 23 percent last year, according to figures released by the Regional Development Ministry on Thursday. In 2013, banks in the Czech Republic provided 92,600 loans totalling a record 149.3 billion crowns, or over 7 billion US dollars. Analysts say that refinanced mortgages accounted for around one third of the volume; however, record-low interest rates also contributed to the growth.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he would punish an employee of the Social Democratic party secretariat who made several mistakes in a formal document addressed to President Zeman requesting the appointment of the new government. Mr Zeman highlighted the errors at the appointment ceremony on Wednesday; the document stated wrong names of two ministers, and requested the appointment of two health ministers, omitting the agriculture portfolio. Mr Sobotka said the errors occurred because the staff was overworked, and said the author of the document would have their salary cut.
The Prague-based Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine, or IKEM, carried out record number of organ transplants last year, its director Pavel Trunečka said on Thursday. In total, 420 patients received 459 organs at the institute, which was 63 more than last year. Liver transplants were the most frequent with 63 cases, followed by 30 joint transplants of pancreas and kidney. Mr Trunečka said an improved coverage of the transplants by health insurance firms was behind last year’s record numbers.
First Czech athletes arrived in Sochi on Thursday, eight days before the start of the Winter Olympic Games. 27 of the Czech team’s 88 members are in Russia, including speed skater Martina Sáblíková, biathletes Gabriela Soukalová and Ondřej Moravec as well as snowboarder Šárka Pančochová. Other members of the Czech Olympic team are set to depart for Sochi next week.