Majority of Czechs believe that the introduction of direct presidential elections was a good move, according to a new survey by the CVVM agency released on Thursday. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they preferred the president to be elected by the people, while 14 percent said the decision-making should be left to the parliament. Support for direct presidential election dropped by nine percentage points compared to the results from May 2013. Direct presidential vote was introduced in 2012 after years of debates, with Miloš Zeman becoming the first directly elected Czech president.
The Czech branch of Amnesty International on Thursday handed over a petition with some 7,500 signatures in support of the imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi to officials at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Prague. Mr Badawi was sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes in public last May for insulting Islam on an online forum he created. The blogger has already undergone the first round of flogging, but the second round of 50 lashes had to be postponed due to concerns over his health.
The European Commission has released its latest economic growth forecast for the Czech Republic, which predicts a growth of 2.5 percent for 2015 and 2.6 for the following year. The deficit in public financing is expected to reach two percent of GDP and drop to 1.5 in 2016. The forecast is slightly more pessimistic in comparison to the latest EC outlook released in autumn.
Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek does not agree with providing weapons to Ukraine, saying that under the present circumstances it would be “playing with fire”. Mr Zaorálek made the statement in reaction to an appeal from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to NATO member states on Wednesday to send weapons to his country to help fight the pro-Russian rebels. The Czech foreign minister told journalists on Thursday that the situation in Ukraine was more risky than it was during the Cold War.
A court in Šumperk on Thursday turned down a request from Jiří Kájínek, the country’s most notorious criminal, who is serving a life sentence for double murder, to be transferred to a lower security prison. Mr. Kájínek, who pleaded innocent and claims he was framed by the police, has twice failed in appeals to the Constitutional Court to have his case reopened. He is serving his sentence at the maximum security prison in Mírov, north Moravia, which he managed to escape from in 2000.
One skier died on Thursday after being pulled out of an avalanche in the Krkonoše Mountains in the north of the Czech Republic. Another injured skier was airlifted from the site by the local mountain rescue service. The avalanche trapped three people, but one of them, who was only partially buried, managed to free himself and phone for help. The mountain rescue service has warned against an increased risk of avalanches following heavy snowfall in the last few days. There is currently a 105 cm blanket of snow in the Giant Mountains.
A court in Prague on Thursday refused to compensate descendants of Jan Antonín Baťa, former owner of the Baťa shoe empire. Five relatives of the Czech shoe magnate have been seeking compensation amounting to 56 million crowns for the value of the property that was confiscated to Baťa in 1947 under the post-war Beneš decrees for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. In 2007, however, a court cleared Bata’s name, ruling that no crime had been committed. According to the verdict, which can be appealed, Bata’s descendants attempted to circumvent the law on the grounds that the restitution laws pertain to property confiscated after February 25th 1948 and cannot apply to a case that occurred a year earlier.
The Czech Republic is losing the fight against ghettos and concentrations of poverty in the country according to a report submitted to the government on Wednesday. The report said that a series of steps agreed four years had not had the desired effect countering social exclusion, according to the ČTK news agency. It has been estimated that there are around 400 ghettos in the country containing around 80,000 people. Roma are overrepresented in such ghettos.
The Czech national ice hockey team has been strengthened for Thursday’s first of two matches in short succession against Russia. The team was reinforced on Wedneday with the arrival of KHL players Alexandr Sálek and back Jan Kolár. The first duel against Russia in the Euro Hockey Tour takes place on Thursday night in Karlovy Vary. The Czech team is currently at the bottom of the group table. Thw group also includes Sweden and Finland.