The Czech Foreign Ministry has condemned Russia’s steps towards annexation of Crimea. In a statement released on Wednesday, the ministry said Russia’s approach was an unprecedented breach of international law, and a threat to peaceful coexistence of nations in Europe. The ministry noted that due to its own history of the 1930s, the Czech Republic was very sensitive to Russia’s actions, and would never consent to undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity and annexation of Crimea.
The Czech Republic has a reserved stance towards the EU’s possible blanket economic sanctions against Russia over its actions in Crimea, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told the European Affairs Committee of the Czech lower house. Mr Sobotka also said he did not expect an agreement on sanctions to be reached at an EU summit to be held in Brussels on Thursday or Friday. The Czech prime minister reiterated that his country would not impose any sanctions of its own as they could undermine trade with Russia and hurt the Czech economy.
The Czech government is ready to address the situation of Ukraine’s Czech community, speaker of the lower house Jan Hamáček of the coalition Social Democrats told reporters on Wednesday. Speaking after a meeting with the head of a Czech association in the Zhytomyr region in western Ukraine, Mr Hamáček said the situation was complex and required swift action. Representatives of the Czech community in Ukraine, whose origins go back to the 1860s, have approached Czech authorities requesting assistance with their relocation to the Czech Republic. Earlier this week, the Czech Foreign Ministry said expats could apply for fast-track residency permits; however, Mr Hamáček suggested the government should also provide financial help.
The Finance Ministry is planning to introduce a third rate of value added tax in 2015, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš said. The rate, whose level has not yet been determined, should be lower than the existing rates of 21 and 15 percent, respectively, and should apply to drugs, books, and baby food. The Finance Ministry also wants to make tax collection more effective by establishing a central registry of bank accounts and retail receipts. Details of the Finance Ministry’s plans are yet to be debated within the coalition parties; for its part, the opposition said they would increase the overall tax burden and would make tax evasion easier.
The South Moravian region will make a new offer to the US-based online retailer Amazon, the region’s governor, Michal Hašek told a news conference in Brno on Wednesday. The announcement comes a day after Brno’s municipal assembly rejected Amazon’s plan to build a distribution centre outside the city. Mr Hašek, of the Social Democrats, did not mention a specific location but said if accepted by the retailer, the project would be approved by regional authorities. The state CzechInvest agency also said it would offer the company alternative locations. Amazon’s planned 2.7 billion crown investment in Brno was rejected over problems with altering the city’s zoning plans. A similar distribution centre for Amazon will be built outside Prague.
The coalition ANO party emerged in lead in a new survey of voter preferences by the CVVM agency released on Wednesday. The party, headed by Finance Minister Andrej Babis, would receive 28 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats would come second with 24 percent, followed by the Communists with 14 percent. The TOP 09, the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and Dawn parties would also won seats in the lower house, according to the poll. In October's general election, the Social Democrats came first followed by ANO and the Communists.
The authorities in Bulgaria on Wednesday started a process to revoke operating licences of three foreign power distributors including the Czech firms ČEZ and Energo Pro. The move by the Bulgarian energy regulator comes after the companies, along with Austria’s EVN, failed to settle an alleged debt of over 226 million US dollars to the state power produced NEK, a debt contested by the firms. The regulator gave the foreign-owned distributors two weeks to submit comments on the decision before it addresses the issue again on April 7, the news agency ČTK reported quoting Bulgaria’s news site sofiaglobe.com.
The two main parties in the coalition government are at loggerheads on where to find funding to stabilise the country’s health service. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, who heads ANO, is opposed to the Social Democrats’ plan to raise money for healthcare by increasing the state health insurer’s fees. Mr. Babiš insists the funding can be found if the Ministry of Health makes economies in other areas. Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček wants to free up CZK 2 billion for hospitals, partly to compensate for a drop in their income linked to the abolition of fees for hospital stays. The cabinet is due to discuss the issue at one of its next meetings.
Czech president backs Slovak presidential candidate Fico
Czech President Miloš Zeman has backed Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in his bid to become the country’s president. Mr Zeman told reporters that for him as a left-wing politician, it was natural to express support for a left-leaning candidate. However, the president said he was in no way interfering with Slovakia’s affairs. Mr Fico came first in a first round of voting for the new Slovak head of state last weekend; he faces businessman Andrej Kiska in the run-off to take place on March 29.
Memorial service for late actor Otakar Brousek staged at Prague theatre
Hundreds of people came to pay their last respects to the late actor Otakar Brousek at Prague’s Na Vinohradech Theatre on Wednesday. Otakar Brousek passed away last week at the age of 89. He appeared in nearly 140 roles on stage of the theatre he joined in 1959; he also collaborated with Czech Radio for nearly 70 years. He last appeared on stage last May as Rand in the play Being There.
Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech made his 100th appearance in soccer’s Champions League with Chelsea on Tuesday night. The 31-year-old kept a clean sheet as the Londoners beat Turkish club Galatasaray 2:0 for a 3:1 aggregate victory in the round of 16 tie. Čech’s penalty saves in a shootout at the end of the 2012 Champions League final helped Chelsea lift the club football’s most prestigious trophy for the first time ever.
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