Daily news summary

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President stands up for embattled PM

President Miloš Zeman has stood up for the embattled Czech prime minister in the face of increasing pressure for him to resign in the wake of an EC audit confirming that he has a conflict of interest and the decision of the Supreme State Attorney to renew an investigation into whether he committed EU subsidy fraud ten years ago.

In an interview for Barrandov TV President Zeman said Babiš should remain in office despite the renewed investigation, adding that the only reason for him to go would be if his party lost the next general elections.

The president confirmed that, at Babiš’ request, he would not use his right to stop the renewed investigation or pardon the prime minister.

Czech Supreme Court rules in favour of Somali schoolgirl over headscarf ban

The Supreme Court has ruled that a Prague school was wrong to ban headscarves for hygienic reasons in a suit brought forward by a Somali schoolgirl who wore it for religious reasons.

The court ruled that religious pluralism must be respected and no religious group should be discriminated against or disadvantaged.

A lower court had ruled in favour of the school, which argued that since the Somali schoolgirl was yet not enrolled there, she could not have been discriminated against for wearing a hijab.

MPs approve fining retailers up to CZK 50 mn for selling ‘dual quality’ food, products

Czech MPs have approved the government draft amendment to the Food and Consumer Protection acts to impose steep fines on retailers selling “dual quality” food and other products.

If signed into law, retailers who sell inferior quality products that appear to be the same as superior ones sold elsewhere in the EU could be fined up to 50 million crowns.

The Czech Republic has long pushed for the EU to ban “dual quality” product sales, arguing that the Single Market should not have de facto double standards.

Currently, for example, the same brand of frozen fish fingers sold in Germany may have 20 percent more actual fish (i.e. fewer fillers, such as breadcrumbs) than the version sold here.

Under EU law, if the packing accurately lists the ingredients or contents the practice is legal.

‘Fridays for Future’: Czech PM Andrej Babiš to meet student environmentalists

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) is expected this week to meet Czech representatives of the international youth climate change initiative “Fridays for Future”.

Among other things, they will likely discuss the future of coal mining in the Czech Republic, which is the fifth-biggest polluter in Europe and the 20th in the world in terms of CO2 emissions.

Working groups of the so-called Coal Commission are now drafting plans to end coal mining sometime after 2030 in order to reduce greenhouse gases.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to meet Charter 77 signatories in Prague

French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian meets his Czech counterpart Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats) in Prague on Friday.

The ministers are due to discuss major European and international issues on which the two countries cooperate closely, most notably their joint contributions to the security and stability of the Sahel region of Africa.

Jean-Yves Le Drian is also due to meet former dissidents and Charter 77 signatories, in order to pay tribute to their commitment to democracy and freedoms.

He is also to deliver a speech on the legacy of 1989 for Europe, in the framework of an international conference held by the French Centre for Social Science Research (CEFRES), Charles University and other institutions.

Czech foreign minister praises Ukraine for advancing peace efforts under Minsk treaty

Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček on Thursday praised Ukraine for taking steps to resolve the conflict in the east of the country against pro-Russian separatists on the basis of the Minsk Agreement.

Speaking on the margins of an OSCE conference in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had taken positive unilateral steps to open the door to advancing peace talks, including withdrawing heavy weapons from the region.

Petříček’s counterpart, Vadym Prystaiko, plans to make an official visit to the Czech Republic in early February 2020, when the speakers of the countries’ parliaments are also expected to make bilateral visits.

The foreign ministers also discussed the holding of the first meeting of the Czech-Ukrainian expert forum and the ninth meeting of the Czech- Ukrainian intergovernmental commission on economic, industrial, scientific and technical cooperation.

Date of Soviet-led invasion in 1989 set to become Czech state holiday

The Czech Republic looks set to officially declare August 21 a state holiday, in memory of victims of the Warsaw Pact troop invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and subsequent Soviet-led occupation.

Senators voted overwhelmingly on Friday to amend legislation to create the new holiday.

In total, 90 lawmakers from all parliamentary groups apart from the Communist Party voted in favour of the bill, which must be signed by President Miloš Zeman in order to become law.

According to the bill, the night of August 20-21, 1968, was among of the most tragic times in modern Czechoslovak history.

Police investigating attack in Prague shopping mall

A black man was attacked in the Flora shopping mall in Prague on Thursday evening, the news site Novinky.cz reported. According to the Novinky’s reporter who was there at the time, the man was stabbed in the neck by an aggressor with whom he had engaged in a brief scuffle coming out of the metro.

The injured man is reported to be in serious condition. The attacker was detained by the mall’s security and turned over to the police. It is not yet clear whether the attack was racially motivated.

Smartwings, Czech Airlines to cancel flights to UK over Boeing 737 MAX issue

The carriers Smartwings and Czech Airlines will definitively cancel flights to the United Kingdom after having already suspended services to Birmingham and London on their winter flight schedule, the server zdopravy.cz reports.

Smartwings, the majority owner of Czech Airlines, had previously announced it would comply with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) directive on grounding Boeing 737 MAX aircraft after two accidents early this year.

"In a situation where we cannot operate B 737 MAX aircraft in the long term, it is necessary to focus exclusively on optimum commercial use of our fleet and operation of lines that meet our business expectations," Smartwings group spokeswoman Vladimíra Dufková is quoted as saying.

In January, the carriers’ lines to Iceland with a stopover in Copenhagen will also be interrupted. The last connection will fly from Prague on 6 January and back on 7 January. It should be restored in the summer, but without a stopover in Denmark.

Weather outlook

Saturday’s outlook is for mostly cloudy skies throughout the country. Average daily highs should range from 5 to 9 degrees Celsius. In Moravia, temperatures are expected to be several degrees cooler, and there is a risk of icy roads.