Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka defended the Czech government’s concerns for human rights issues on Thursday saying that defense of human rights and support for business and trade can go hand-in-hand. The prime minister was responding to criticism from President Miloš Zeman who said during a visit to the regions that excessive emphasis on human rights issues by some Czech top officials was harming Czech exporters and investors in countries like Uzbekistan or Iran. The prime minister said he did not believe one concern excluded the other and stressed that before the fall of communism in 1989 Czechoslovakia itself had relied on the West to bring up human rights issues on its behalf.
On a visit to the Papcel Litovel factory in the Olomouc region, President Miloš Zeman expressed the view that human right issues should not be allowed to stand in the way of business and trade. He said the country’s business interests were sometimes hurt by what he called an excessive emphasis on human rights on the part of Czech leaders, citing the cancelled visit by the president of Uzbekistan as an example. Mr. Zeman said this was a self-defeating policy, noting that since the Ubzbek head of state was not going to visit the country it would not be possible to bring up the issue of human rights face to face. At the same time, the Czech Republic was losing investment opportunities and risking business already underway in the country, the president noted. The Papcel Litovel factory has an eight million dollar investment in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek president recently cancelled his visit to the Czech Republic after the prime minister and the mayor of Prague said they were not willing to meet with him.
The president’s words elicited an angry response from the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies Karel Schwarzenberg who said Mr. Zeman should spend a month in an Iranian jail so that he would know what he was talking about. The TOP 09 leader also rejected the idea that defense of human rights harmed exports, saying that if Czech companies produced quality goods they would always find buyers.
A Czech army plane transported a dozen more Ukrainian nationals injured in the recent clashes on Maidan Square to Prague for treatment on Thursday. The majority suffered gunshot wounds and will require surgery. The Czech government on Wednesday night agreed to set aside a further 8.5 million crowns to fund the humanitarian mission. A first airlift last week brought back 27 injured to Prague hospitals. The Czech government has said it will continue providing humanitarian assistance for as long as is needed.
The chair of the Czech Senate Milan Štěch has announced that he will not be making an official visit to Russia in March as planned. Mr. Štěch said the visit had been postponed indefinitely at his request in connection with Russia’s military actions in Crimea. The visit by one of the Czech Republic’s leading representatives was to have focused on the development of bilateral relations.
The Czech Republic has definitively won an international arbitration case against the Diag Human company, the Czech Health Ministry reported on Thursday. The company had been suing the Czech Republic since the early 1990s over a frustrated deal in blood plasma, demanding more than ten billion crowns in compensation for lost profit. Although a French court ruled in the Czech Republic’s favour in 2012, the company filed a cassation complaint, which has now definitively been rejected by the Supreme Court in France.
České Budějovice mayor Juraj Thoma has been charged with abuse of office. Mr. Thoma is believed to have signed a highly disadvantageous contract for the city hall on IT services in 2012 without calling a public tender. Independent experts claim that the contract was overpriced by an estimated 9 million crowns.
The Czech economy grew faster in the last quarter of 2013 than originally predicted with a GDP growth of 1.9 percent against the previous quarter. This constituted a 1.3 percent expansion year on year. In the whole of last year, the GDP contracted by 0.9 percent which was also a better figure than the original estimate. The country came out a drawn-out recession only last year and the boost in growth at the end of 2013 came after the central bank intervened massively to weaken the crown as a means of fighting deflation risks. The forex interventions encouraged consumer spending with shoppers trying to get ahead of expected price rises this year due to costlier imports.
The speaker of the lower house, Jan Hamáček, has banned the sale of alcohol on the premises of the lower chamber when the house is in session. Mr. Hamáček made the move in response to appeals by members of the ANO party which criticized the fact that MPs drink during sessions of the lower chamber. Critics within the party noted that since drinking at work is not allowed elsewhere there is no reason for MPs to have special privileges in this respect.
Fuel prices in Prague have dropped by up to 1.24 crowns due to intense competition between sales outlets. The price of the best-selling Natural 95 is now selling on average for 35.54 per liter, while Diesel fuel sells for 36.93 on average. The cheapest fuel is available in Prague 3 and Prague 9. The drop is expected to be short lived since the price of petrol and diesel is expected to rise by approximately 1 crown per liter by mid-March in connection with the conflict in Crimea.
Czech manager Pavel Vrba saw his team draw 2:2 in a friendly with Norway at Prague’s Eden stadium on Wednesday night. The game was Vrba’s first in charge of the national team. The Czech team started brightly with goals by Tomáš Rosický and Matěj Vydra sending them in at the break with a 2:1 lead. Half time changes, including Rosický’s substitution, appeared to break up Czech coherence and the visitors equalized in the closing minutes. Vrba complained of lost possession in the second half.
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