News

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Czech entry into border-free zone approved

Interior ministers from the European Union’s member states gave final approval on Thursday to the Czech Republic’s accession to the border-free Schengen area. The Czech Republic will now join the Schengen zone, alongside 8 other EU member states, on December 21. The decision had been endorsed by ministers last month, but the final legal step to abolish border controls was taken on Thursday. As of December 21, the Schengen zone will encompass 24 different EU nations. The Czech Republic’s neighbours will all belong to the Schengen area. Entrance to the Schengen zone will mean passport-free travel for Czechs going abroad by train and car, but passports will be required for international flights, even to other countries within the Schengen area, until at least the end of March next year.

Greens threaten to leave coalition if Cunek returns to government

The Green Party would seriously consider leaving the governing coalition should Jiri Cunek return to the cabinet. Mr Cunek was the deputy prime minister and minister for regional development up until his resignation in early November. He resigned when an investigation into whether he had accepted bribes as mayor of the north Moravian town Vsetin was reopened. The investigation has since been dropped and Mr Cunek has voiced his interest in returning to government. But on Thursday, the head of the Green Party’s club of deputies, Katerina Jacques, warned that all six Green MPs may well leave the coalition in protest, should Mr Cunek return. The government coalition would fall if as many as four Green MPs decided to walk out.

Cunek not to reveal documents clearing his name

In related news, Jiri Cunek will not be making public the reasons why a state attorney dropped the investigation into whether he accepted a bribe back in 2002. Mr Cunek had previously promised to release the documents which exonerated him. But on Thursday, he told Hospodarske noviny that some of the other 34 people involved in his case were not willing to have these documents made public. Mr Cunek was cleared in November of accepting half a million CZK from a real estate company. He has also been accused abusing the social welfare system while he had large sums of money in various personal bank accounts.

Poll shows Green Party with record low support

A poll conducted by the Median agency and released on Thursday showed that if elections were to be held this month, then the Green Party would fall short of the 5% share of the vote required to be represented in parliament. The Greens, who are currently one of the partners in the governing coalition, would receive 4.4% of votes cast, the poll suggests. The opposition Social Democrats would win an election held this month with 35% of the electorate’s support, while the governing Civic Democrats would come second with 31%. Pollsters said the Greens’ poor result was down to the fact that those who had voted Green in the past as an act of protest were now increasingly likely to vote for no one at all at the next election.

Greenpeace activists scale Czech power plant chimney

Activists from Greenpeace have scaled one of the chimneys at the Prunerov power plant in Northern Bohemia in protest against the carbon dioxide emissions the plant produces. The 11 activists plan to spend several days camping out on the chimney. According to the environmental group, Prunerov power station is the biggest air polluter in the country, producing annually 8.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. A spokesperson for Greenpeace added that the Czech Republic has the fourth worst carbon dioxide output per capita in Europe. The protest is being staged to coincide with an international conference on climate change being held in Indonesia, which Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik is attending.

Police charge ‘thief of the century’ in absentia

Czech police have formally brought charges against Frantisek Prochazka, who is alleged to have stolen half a billion crowns (nearly 31 million USD) from the security firm he worked for as a guard. Mr Prochazka has been missing since last Saturday, when the theft occurred. On Thursday, a police spokesperson said that prosecution had been launched against Mr Prochazka in absentia. The robbery has been called the ‘theft of the century’ by the Czech press. The security firm which lost these millions of crowns has offered a reward of 2 million Euros to anyone who helps catch Mr Prochazka. No further comment has been made by the police about the robbery as they fear that any information leak could hamper their ongoing investigation.

Mansfeld family lose appeal to hold on to Opocno chateau

Countess Kristina Colloredo-Mansfeld has lost her appeal to hold onto the Opocno chateau in eastern Bohemia. The Supreme Court in Brno judged on Thursday that the ruling of a regional court last September, which transferred the chateau from her ownership and back to the state, was correct. Opocno chateau was the historic home of the Mansfeld family until it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1942. The castle then came under state control in 1945, under decree of Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes. The family has been fighting to regain ownership of Opocno chateau since 1995. The property was handed over to the Colloredo-Mansfelds four years ago, but last September a regional court in Hradec Kralove reversed this decision. The chateau is one of the most visited heritage sites in the region. The Mansfeld family is considering taking its case to the European Court.

Transparency International: Czechs sceptical about government anti-corruption measures

According to a Transparency International poll released on Thursday, 60% of Czechs think that the government’s fight against corruption will prove unsuccessful. The centre-right government has outlined the battle against corruption as ‘one of its major priorities’. Forty-four percent of Czechs said that they thought corruption levels in their country would rise over the next couple of years. Transparency International placed the Czech Republic in the medium corruption bracket, alongside Russia, Turkey and Bulgaria. A spokesperson said that Czechs rank amongst the most mistrustful of their government’s anti-corruption measures in the world. Thirteen percent of Czechs said that they had paid a bribe in the last year.

Man jailed for grenade attack loses appeal

An Israeli citizen has lost his appeal against a five-year jail sentence which he was handed following a grenade attack in central Prague in 2004. Yakov Moshaylov injured 17 people when he threw a grenade at casino owner Assaf Abutboul’s vehicle. Mr Abutboul survived the attack. In June this year, Mr Moshaylov was sent to prison and immediately appealed. But on Thursday, the Prague High Court upheld the original judge’s ruling. As Mr Moshaylov has already spent 3 years in custody, it is thought that he will soon be released on probation.

Former F1 champion ‘endangered passengers’ in high-speed train stunt

A Czech railways inquiry has judged that former F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi endangered the lives of passengers on a high-speed train between Prague and Brno. The Brazilian double world champion was travelling to a motorbike race in October when the incident happened. Fittipaldi had been allowed in the train driver’s compartment for publicity shots by Ceske drahy – the Czech rail operator, but fell foul of the rules when he ‘moved without permission a lever influencing the functioning of the passenger train’, the rail inspectorate said in a statement. The 60 year old Brazilian will find out later what punishment he faces.

Weather

The weather will be turning colder over the next couple of days, with temperatures ranging between 0 – 6 degrees Celsius. Expect cloudy skies and rain.