Diplomatic row between Prague, Minsk following expulsion of Czech official
A diplomatic row has erupted between the Czech Republic and Belarus; on Friday the Czech authorities expelled a Belarusian diplomat, soon after the expulsion of Czech diplomat Pavel Krivohlavy from Minsk. He had been arrested and briefly detained on Wednesday evening, reportedly while drinking alcohol with a 17-year-old boy. The Czech Foreign Ministry said the authorities in Belarus had contravened international law by failing to respect diplomatic immunity. The Czech charge d'affaires in Belarus, Vladimir Ruml, has also returned to Prague, at least temporarily.
Support for opposition Civic Democrats at all-time high
Support for the opposition Civic Democrats has risen to 36%, the party's strongest ever backing, suggests a poll just released by the STEM polling agency. Last year the right-of-centre party came first in European Parliament, regional and Senate elections. Second in the latest poll were the Communist Party with 17 percent support, followed by the ruling Social Democrats with 14 percent.
Fresh charges pressed against former health minister Marie Souckova
Former health minister Marie Souckova has been charged with abuse of office, in addition to earlier charges of breach of public trust. Both accusations follow a controversial contract Ms Souckova signed with a lawyer who represented the Health Ministry in an arbitration case. If found guilty the former minister, who recently quit the Social Democratic Party, could face up to ten years in prison.
Lower house votes to extend stay of Czech Army unit in Iraq
The lower house has voted to extend the mission of a Czech military police unit in Iraq. If the decision is approved by the Senate next week, the Czech unit will remain in Iraq until the end of the year; they had been due to return at the end of February. The Czech soldiers, around 90 in total, are training Iraqi police officers in the south of the country.
Bill banning privatisation of regional hospitals passed in lower house
The lower house has passed a bill banning the country's regional authorities from transforming hospitals into private companies, overturning earlier approval from the Senate. Regional governors and the opposition Civic Democrats have strongly criticised Friday's vote, saying they may take the matter to the Constitutional Court.
Study: Czech salaries to remain below Western European standards for decades
It will take Czechs, Poles and Hungarians decades to reach Western European income levels, according to a study by the Economist Corporate Network quoted in the Czech paper Lidove noviny on Friday. The report suggests the new EU member states will never catch up with Germany in terms of wages, but should reach the same levels as the Spanish and Portuguese in 14 to 18 years.
Group of Chechen, Iraqi refugees arrested on Austrian border
Czech police have arrested a group of 13 refugees from Chechnya and Iraq on the Czech-Austrian border. A spokesperson said the group, who were found hidden in a truck, had been deported.
Strong winds which have been hitting the Czech Republic since Thursday should begin to ease soon. The next few days should see mostly cloudy weather, with temperatures around freezing point.