Czech head of state, president Miloš Zeman, defended his decision to visit China and Russia last year for commemorations of the end of WWII. Zeman said the EU had recommended that visits to China by EU heads of state not be made. He said the visits to both countries were aimed at maintaining links and said he regarded them as successful. Zeman called again in relation to Russia for sanctions against the country to be dropped as soon as possible. Zeman, speaking at a conference in Prague entitled “The Czech Republic is not for everyone,” said presidential visits should be made in preference to countries with presidential regimes because that ensured a greater effect. In spite of the conference’s title, Zeman referred only in passing to immigration issues.
Bus drivers have warned they will be starting an escalated series of industrial action over claims for minimum wages including extended strikes. Drivers on public service routes say they warned of action six months ago but negotiations since have not got anywhere. Many of the drivers, now on wages of around 70-80 crowns an hour, say the government should set a 100 crown an hour minimum wage. They say wages are being undermined by public tenders for operating bus routes in which the bus company making the lowest bid and often offering worst conditions to drivers often land the contract.
Ministers of defense of the Visegrad Four countries meeting outside Prague have agreed to propose the dispatching of an army contingent to the Baltic states in 2017. The proposal will be formally made at the Warsaw Summit of NATO countries in July. The Baltic states have called for a reinforced NATO presence in their countries. The contingent could be rotated between the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary. Details are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks ahead of the summit.
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament failed to back a blanket ban on smoking in restaurants on Wednesday. The move, promoted by minister of health Svatopluk Němeček, failed to win sufficient support even after the minister offered to make some concessions. The vote means that the Czech Republic remains a bastion of smoking in Europe. Government parties failed to give the proposed ban sufficient support with the ANO party splitting three ways in the vote much to the anger of coalition partners the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.
The ANO party of leader and finance minister Andrej Babiš continues to head the preferences according to the latest poll by the STEM agency released on Wednesday. It gives ANO 27.1 percent of support compared with the second-placed Social Democrats with 20.1 percent. The communists bolstered their position in third place with 14.5 percent of support. Another three parties would make into parliament according to the poll, the centre-right TOP 09 party, Civic Democrats, and Christian Democrats, all with around 7.0 percent support. ANO would on the basis of the poll win 72 seats in the 200-seat lower house.
Czech President Miloš Zeman appointed former caretaker prime minister and minister of finance Jiří Rusnok as the next governor of the Czech National Bank. Rusnok, already a member of the central bank board, will take over from Miroslav Singer whose mandate officially ends in June. Zeman highlighted the policy differences with Rusnok over the current low crown policy but pointed out that he had been appointed for his expert and practical public and professional experience. Zeman has called for an ending of the low crown policy as soon as possible while the central bank sees it continuing until at least mid-2017.
Police detained 16 activists from the Klinika social centre in Prague on Tuesday night after they refused to quit the centre. Police returned to the former clinic reoccupied by activists who have turned it into a social centre after a bomb alert. A similar alert sparked clashes between the police and activists on Friday. Police then turned the empty buildings formerly used as a clinic over to the state authority which owns them but activists later returned with the intention of reopening the centre. An original rental agreement between the state agency and activists expired in March.
A Norwegian court on Wednesday started proceedings regarding the appeal of Czech mother Eva Michaláková against the removal of her parental rights and moves to put one of her two sons up for adoption. The fate of her 10 and eight year old sons has become a major media and political issue in the Czech Republic with past interventions by head of state Miloš Zeman and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two children were taken into care by Norwegian social services five years ago following suspicions of abuse. Michaláková is seeking to get her sons returned. The court hearing is expected to last until Friday.
Interpol are interested in using a unique database created by Czech police that compares methods of wrapping illegal drugs with similar cases around the world, iDnes.cz reported on Wednesday. The system, named Reliéf, tracks the impressions made by machines compressing drugs into small packages, helping investigators to detect what mafia groups are behind particular cases of smuggling, the news website said.
The Ministry of the Interior is to set up a special team to monitor foreign propaganda, Czech Television reported on Wednesday. The group, comprising around 30 people, will be tasked with curbing the influence of Russia and other states on media and social networks in the Czech Republic. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec told the broadcaster that it was necessary to react to such propaganda and to at least be aware of what direction such activities were taking.