News

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Deputy PM Jiri Cunek resigns

Jiri Cunek has announced that he is stepping down as deputy prime minister and minister for regional development. At a news conference on Thursday morning, the Christian Democrats' leader said he will quit the posts next Wednesday. Mr Cunek said he was resigning because of the reopening of an investigation into whether he had accepted bribes while he was mayor of Vsetin in 2002. He said he wanted there to be an independent enquiry into the allegations.

On Monday, Czech Television broadcast a report claiming that during the 1990s, Mr Cunek collected social welfare benefits while depositing millions of crowns into different bank accounts. Following the broadcast, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called on him to refute the allegations quickly and clearly or resign.

Milada Horakova's prosecutor jailed for eight years

The last living prosecutor at the trial of Milada Horakova has received an eight-year prison sentence for judicial murder. Ludmila Brozova Polednova sat on the panel that condemned the democratic politician Milada Horakova to death in 1950, under the Czechoslovak Communist regime. On Thursday, a Prague court sentenced Mrs Polednova to eight years in a high security jail. Many had thought that Mrs Polednova, who is now 86, would not receive a jail sentence on grounds of her age, but the judge presiding over the case said that she had acted in contempt of the law, and should therefore go to jail. Acting as an accomplice to murder normally carries a fifteen-year jail sentence, but Mrs Polednova received a lesser sentence because of her age and, according to the judge, because of the time that had lapsed since the event. Milada Horakova was the only women ever to be executed in communist Czechoslovakia for political reasons, and was condemned following a trail that many thought was staged.

Bursik to take over as Education Minister, for now

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told reporters on Thursday that he had asked the head of the Green Party, Martin Bursik, to preside over the country's Education Ministry, while a new education minister was found. The post of education minister has been vacant since the beginning of October, when Green MP Dana Kuchtova resigned. Prime Minister Topolanek said that filling the post had proved more difficult than anticipated, and so to bring some stability to the ministry he had asked Mr Bursik - who is also currently the environment minister - to stand in. The move has already been approved by President Klaus, said Mr Topolanek.

The Greens have been looking for a replacement for Mrs Kuchtova for over a month now. The party's first choice for the post, Dusan Luzny, did not win the approval of the other governing coalition partners, and prospective candidate Iva Ritschelova turned the post down early last month.

Baby-swap parents receive damages from council

The parents of two newborn baby girls who were accidentally swapped at birth have received 100,000 CZK (5,000 USD) each from Vysocina Regional Council. District Officer Milos Vystrcil, who handed over the amount, said the sum was purely to cover expenses caused by the baby mix-up. He added that the parents and the hospital at fault would have to negotiate a figure for emotional damages at a later date. One of the parents, Libor Broza, responded to the donation by saying that it was hard to tell if it did in fact cover all the costs incurred, but at least it was something. The two families affected by the baby-swap are thought to want 1 million CZK from the Trebic hospital involved for each month that they have lived with their non-biological offspring.

In related news, Trebic police have suspended their investigations into hospital personnel implicated in the baby-swap. According to a spokesperson, there is little evidence that the mix-up was deliberate and thus a criminal offence. On Wednesday, two of the hospital employees who were sacked following the incident were reinstated in their positions.

President Klaus honored by Kremlin

Czech president Vaclav Klaus has been awarded a Pushkin Medal by Russian president Vladimir Putin, revealed the Kremlin on Thursday. According to a Kremlin spokesperson, Mr Klaus has been awarded the medal for his efforts in 'bringing nations together and preserving their cultural heritage'. He was also honored for his Russian language skills. Alongside Mr Klaus, Croatian president Stjepan Mesic and Chinese defence minister Cao Gangchuan were also awarded a Pushkin Medal.

Lidove noviny: Czech state institutions amongst worst in Europe for corruption

Newspaper Lidove noviny reported on Thursday that, according to statistics released by the World Bank, corruption in Czech state institutions had worsened in the last ten years. The bank ranked the Czech Republic as the second worst country in Europe, when it came to government employees accepting bribes. According to the data, the Czech Republic is the only new EU member country in which the problem of corruption within state institutions has grown. The Centre for Economic Studies in Prague conducted its own research alongside that of the bank's, and found that the situation was not helped by the fact that Czechs found bribery and corruption normal aspects of everyday life.

Further talks on proposed US radar base end

On Thursday, the Defence Ministry announced that a further round of talks on the proposed American radar base to be built in the Czech Republic had come to a close. Czech and American representatives had been meeting to discuss the wording of a bilateral agreement which would define the legal status of the military base and its employees, weapons' regulations on the base, and Czech access to the radar, among other points. According to a Defence Ministry spokesperson, the talks will continue into the next couple of months until an agreement can be found on the wording of the text. Despite the ongoing negotiations, it is still uncertain whether there will be a US missile defence shield built in the Czech Republic at all. The radar still has to be approved by the Czech parliament and the president. The White House is only expecting a final decision from the Czechs in 2008.

Macek fined over slap

Former Civic Democrat MP Miroslav Macek has been fined by a Prague court for slapping former health minister David Rath at a meeting of Czech dentists. The altercation took place in May 2006, when Mr Rath was addressing a conference, and when Mr Macek attacked him from behind. Following the incident, Mr Rath demanded an apology and 1 million CZK (50,000 USD) worth of damages from Mr Macek. On Wednesday, a Prague court fined Mr Macek 3,000 CZK (150 USD) for his conduct. Mr Macek, who said at the time that he had been 'settling a personal account', told journalists on Wednesday that he would never be ashamed of what he had done.

Unemployment amongst Czech school leavers hits ten-year low

Unemployment amongst Czech school leavers has reached a ten-year low, reported the Czech National Institute of Technical and Vocational Education on Thursday. In September, just under 32,000 school leavers were registered as unemployed in the Czech Republic, which is down 10,000 on last year's figures. In total, school leavers make up 8.6% of the country's unemployed. The drop in unemployment among school leavers has been attributed to the increased number of secondary school students going on to university, and the current strength of the Czech economy.

Household debt up by 13 billion crowns in September

Figures released by the Czech National Bank on Thursday showed that household debt in the Czech Republic stood at 662 billion CZK (33.1 billion USD) at the end of September this year. This amount was up nearly 13 billion CZK on the previous month. The head of the bank, Zdenek Tuma, reacted by saying that such a rapid growth in household debt was not sustainable, but that, for the time being, there was 'no significant risk' posed by the rate of household debt.

Weather

Showers and temperatures of 6-11 degrees Celsius are expected over the next couple of days.