Daily news summary


President: Czech Republic should drop visa requirement for Russians

Czech President Miloš Zeman has told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS the Czech Republic should lift visas as quickly as possible for citizens of the Russian federation. He expressed the opinion in connection with sanctions faced by Russia over the Ukraine crisis, saying he saw no reason for the EU to isolate Russia. Nor did he see the need for sanctions, blockades or embargoes. Mr Zeman expressed the view that isolation had never led to success but only deepened misunderstanding and mistrust. The president’s spokesman pointed out that Mr Zeman’s view that economic sanctions were “counterproductive” is one that he has long held. The head of the Czech Association of Travel Agencies confirmed, meanwhile, that the Czech Republic has seen 40 percent fewer Russian tourists this year, due in part to developments in Ukraine, but also, due to the lengthy protocol and cost of obtaining a visa.

Amazon gives up plan to build distribution centre in Brno

US Internet giant Amazon has given up plans to build a distribution centre in a Brno industrial zone and is looking for other locality in Central and Eastern Europe, Amazon´s spokesman for the Czech Republic Karel Taschner has told the Czech News Agency. Amazon was promising investment of almost 3 billion crowns and creation of 1,500 jobs in Brno. Locals, however, expressed concern over increased road traffic which they consider to be beyond tenable already. The Amazon spokesman for the Czech Republic made clear that Amazon was still open to looking for further opportunities in the Czech Republic, given European market growth. One project is going ahead: the construction of Amazon´s distribution centre in Dobroviz near Prague, set to begin in the near future.

State Attorneys’ Office files suit in Opencard case

The Prague State Attorneys’ office has filed a suit against 15 people in the Opencard case, among them former and current city councilors and a former as well as the current mayor. The Opencard scandal concerns dubious public tenders and work carried out to develop a multipurpose data card for the city. Current Prague Mayor Tomáš Hudeček and former mayor Bohuslav Svoboda as well as council members are suspected of breaking fair competition rules and abuse of public office. All those implicated have maintained they are innocent.

Worst ever results recorded for state school leaving exams

Results from school leaving exams are the worst this year since the new system was introduced in 2011. The overall failure rate climbed to 18.7 percent of those taking the exams for the first time. That compares with the 16.2 percent failure rate from 2013 according to centre which prepares the exams. The worst results were for mathematics, with around a quarter of pupils failing, and German, where around one in five failed to reach the required level. Around 10 percent of pupils failed to pass in English.

Brno hands down jail sentence for solar power plant fraud

A court in Brno has handed down a six-year prison sentence to the owner of a solar power plant who fraudulently got it registered for high renewable power payments. The owner got technicians to falsely say that the plant was completed before 2010 so that it could benefit from high state subsidies. At the time the solar panels and other equipment was not installed and the plant was not actually up and running until February 2011. One of the technicians was sentenced to five years. The court also demanded 12 million crowns to be reclaimed from the owner. A raft of similar cases are expected to come before Czech courts.

Social Democrat accuses Catholic Church of Nazi collaboration

A Social Democrat member of the lower house of Parliament caused an uproar in the chamber on Friday when he accused the Catholic Church of being one of the biggest partners of the Nazi regime in Germany. Igor Jakubčík added that the church has also agreed to the expulsion and murder of Jews during the Second World War and helped Nazis at the end of the war to escape to South America. He was speaking during the debate on an amendment to current restitution rules which would give more time to examine church demands for property confiscated during the Communist era. Jakubčík's remarks were attacked by members of the Christian Democrat party and the right-of-Centre Civic Democrats. He latter said that he had nothing against the current church and regretted what had happened after the Communist takeover in 1948.

Czech scientist creates uproar with abortion advice to expectant mothers

A leading Czech scientist has created uproar with an article in a journal suggesting that pregnant mothers who expected their babies would have severe disabilities should undergo abortions. Miroslav Mitlöhner has in the aftermath of the article resigned as director of a university institution and member of an advisory council at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Mitlöhner in an interview said afterwards that some of the comments attributed to him were quotations from other authors but stood by the overall contents of his article.

Pensions to increase in 2015

Lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies passed a government amendment on Friday which is expected increase pensions for seniors next year by an average of 200 crowns per month. One hundred and twenty-four MPs voted in favour out of 154 present, well above the majority needed. The bill revives automatic pension increases based on one-third of the growth of real-wages and inflation numbers. The move was welcomed by the prime minister who slammed the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 of the former austerity government, saying they had “deprived pensioners of billions of crowns”.

Prague chemistry institute opens unique new building

A unique modern building belonging to the Czech Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (made famous by the late scientist and researcher Antonin Holý) officially opened in Prague on Thursday. The new site, nickenamed "the cauliflower" by its employees, cost more than one billion crowns to complete - without state subsidies but from profits from Professor Holy´s patents for medicinal formulas that have been used worldwide in medicines against AIDS, smallpox, shingles and Hepatitis B. The innovative building was designed by architects Ivan Šrom and Kateřina Mašková, from the VPU Deco Praha studio.

Helicopter crash-lands in field outside Prague

Two people had to be treated in Prague hospitals for suspected spinal injuries following a helicopter crash-landing on Friday morning. The two-person aircraft came down shortly before 9 AM in a field near the R-10 highway outside the capital. There was no fire, nor any evidence of a gas leak; the two aboard had to be freed by a rescue crew. According to information available, the small helicopter was owned by a private company and had been headed to an airshow in Hradec Králové.