News

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Christian Democrats back their leader despite corruption scandal

The Christian Democratic Party leadership has thrown its full weight behind party leader Jiri Cunek who is suspected of corruption. Mr. Cunek who serves as Local Development Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and senator, has refused to resign from his posts despite the growing scandal surrounding his past activities in regional politics. The police suspect Mr. Cunek of having accepted a half a million crown bribe from a private company while he was still mayor of Vsetin. The key witness in the case is his former secretary who is under police protection after three men allegedly attempted to bribe her to change her testimony in Mr. Cunek's favour. Calls for his resignation have intensified but Mr. Cunek says he sees no reason to comply.

Date for hand-over of St. Vitus not set

Prague Castle Administration and Catholic Church dignitaries on Tuesday failed to agree on the hand-over of St. Vitus Cathedral back into state hands. The Church was expected to relinquish its rights to the Cathedral after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Prague City Court last June which gave the Church ownership rights. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk argued however that the Supreme Court had not specifically ordered a transfer, merely invalidated all former rulings on the case. The Cardinal said that he did not consider this verdict final and was considering taking the battle to a European Court. Another round of talks is to be held on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's spokesman Petr Knotig said the Catholic Church was misinterpreting the ruling and that it should hand over St. Vitus to the Prague Castle Administration without further delay.

Geoff Hoon in Prague

On a visit to the Czech Republic, Britain's Secretary for Europe Geoff Hoon said the EU Constitution should better reflect the needs of EU citizens. Following talks with the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Mr. Hoon said it was important to think about why Holland and France had rejected the treaty. The Czech Republic and Britain, along with five other EU states, halted efforts to ratify the treaty after the Dutch and French votes, and have called for the document to be simplified and made more transparent. However the Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek assured officials in Brussels on Monday that the Czech Republic would not try to block a "reduced" version of the EU treaty.

EU ministers may discuss US missile defense project in Brussels

US plans to deploy a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland could be discussed for the first time by European Union leaders at a two day summit in Brussels due to begin on Thursday, the AFP news agency reports. The topic shot onto the EU's agenda on Monday when Austria requested that EU foreign ministers hear from their Czech and Polish counterparts, where the missile defense shield is likely to be located. Although the Czech government looks set to open negotiations with the United States on the matter Prime Minister Topolanek said that no commitment had been made and that he welcomed debate on the subject within the EU and NATO.

Health Minister Julinek sacks three hospital directors

Health Minister Tomas Julinek has sacked the directors of three big teaching hospitals - Tomayerova and Vinohradska in Prague and the Teaching Hospital in Olomouc. The minister cited poor financial management saying that the directors had failed to substantially reduce their hospitals long-term debts. Former health minister David Rath of the opposition Social Democrats has meanwhile issued a statement accusing his successor of having launched a political purge.

Czechs have lower life expectancy than people in most other EU states

Czechs have a lower life expectancy than people in most other EU states, according to a report published by Eurostat, the European Union's Statistical Office. Female life expectancy in 27 EU countries is 81 years, male life expectancy is 75. In the Czech Republic the official figures are 79 and 72 respectively. Experts say this discrepancy is likely to last at least until 2050.

I Served the King of England becomes box office hit

Jiri Menzel's new film "I Served the King of England" has become a box office hit in the Czech Republic. The Association of Film Distributors says that since its premiere in January it has been seen by 600.000 viewers, making 67 million crowns. I served the King of England is the Oscar winning director's sixth adaptation of works by Bohumil Hrabal. It was voted film of the year at the Czech Lion Awards this weekend, where it picked up four prizes, and it recently won the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Berlinale 2007 Film Festival.

More Austrian border protests over Temelin

Austrian anti-nuclear activists have announced they are planning to hold another protest against the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia on March 14th. Manfred Doppler spokesman for the Upper Austrian group Atomstop said the activists would block four Czech-Austrian border crossings for two hours next Wednesday and every Wednesday after that regardless of whether Austria lodged an international complaint against the Czech Republic over Temelin. The Austrian government has asked lawyers to look into that possibility but no final decision has yet been taken on the matter.

Two men sent to jail for setting homeless man on fire

Two men who set a homeless person on fire in one of Prague's night trams have been sentenced to three and a half years in jail. This is the second ruling on the case. Originally one of the men was sentenced to eight years for attempted murder. Both appealed, arguing that they had not meant to kill the man, but simply to frighten him and get him off the tram. The victim spent four months in hospital and has had to undergo a number of skin-transplants.

Weather

The next few days are expected to be partly cloudy with sunny intervals and afternoon highs reaching 15 degrees Celsius.