Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka began a two-day visit to France on Thursday, his first trip to the country as PM. Mr Sobotka met French President François Holland; a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is scheduled for Friday. The Czech prime minister’s agenda is dominated by trade and investment issues as well as Europe’s energy security and EU affairs. Mr Sobotka, who is leader of the Czech Social Democrats, is also due to attend several events held by the French Socialist Party as part of their campaign ahead of European elections.
The Czech prime minister, speaking in France after meeting President Holland, said Russia needed to reduce its military presence along the border with Ukraine and to ease tensions in the area. He added that the Czech Republic was watching developments there with concern. Mr Sobotka also maintained that Prague and Paris held similar views on development in Ukraine, namely that the massive concentration of Russian troops on the Ukraine border was escalating pressure and could be considered an act of intimidation.
The Czech coalition parties have approved plans to cut the VAT rate on drugs, medicine, diapers and food for infants from 15 to 10 percent as of 2015. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the Finance Ministry would now incorporate the move into the draft of next year’s state budget; it is estimated that the lower VAT rate would cost the budget several billion crowns. The Czech government is yet to discuss the plan with the European Commission; it will consider plans for further cuts of the VAT rate only after measures to improve VAT collection are implemented, according to the prime minister.
The construction company Metrostav has broadened for the second time a complaint against Prague City Hall over Blanka Tunnel and an alleged unpaid 3.7 billion crowns for the project which includes a new bridge in the Prague-Troja area. Prague City Hall said it had the funds to pay off bills due but no legal framework for payment after it came to light contracts between Metrostav and the city might be invalid. The matter ended up in arbitration court. Blanka Tunnel is expected to cost Prague some 36 billion crowns. It was originally meant to be opened in May; now a date in September is being discussed, after a preliminary decision ordered Metrostav to continue work on the tunnel complex.
The Office of the President has been ordered to return a building seized by Czechoslovakia’s former Communist regime to relatives of the original owners. The family home, located within the vicinity of Prague Castle, was seized by the state in 1957 for security reasons. The state now has three days upon receiving the verdict to sign an agreement with the family on restitution. Although the decision is binding, the Office of the President is reportedly considering taking the matter to the Supreme Court.
A lab for the production of the illicit drug pervetin, uncovered by the police on Wednesday in the region of Karlovy Vary, was capable of producing dozens of kilos of the methamphetamine worth tens of millions of crowns. The police commented it was not often they saw a facility of comparable size. Three people, reportedly of Vietnamese descent, were arrested and several kilos of the drug were seized. The Czech News Agency reported it took officers equipped with gasmasks two trips with a transport vehicle to remove chemicals from the facility. Early estimates suggest that more than 50 kilos of pervetin were produced at the site.
A Czech man found last December in Oslo suffering from amnesia, had past debts in the Czech Republic amounting to around 400,000 crowns, news website iDnes reports. The website reported that the Czech – who has been going by the name John Smith after he was rescued laying in a snowdrift in December and suffered memory loss – was employed for four years as a web administrator for the Czech Interior Ministry and was formerly officially listed as a legal expert in cybernetics. Distraint procedures were launched against him in 2012 after he failed to pay off bills including his monthly mortgage, he explained in an interview for TV Barrandov; his apartment was confiscated and sold off, he said. Mr Smith – or Michal P. as he is being referred to by iDnes – has suggested he will not return to the Czech Republic for fear of his life. He maintained earlier he had been held against his will and sexually assaulted before he was found. He had no recollection of how he ended up in Norway. The Norwegian police are running an investigation.
Emergency ambulances will, in several weeks, be required in all cases in Prague to drive patients to the nearest hospital. The country’s health ministry will issue the order after reaching agreement with emergency services after a woman suffering poisoning last year was transported for over an hour after being refused by seven facilities. All three teaching hospitals in Prague as well as number of other hospitals including Na Bulovce and Motol, fall under the ministry. The ministry is urging other Prague hospitals and facilities in central Bohemia to reach a similar agreement. In several weeks, a new electronic system monitoring available beds will also be launched, also covering emergency or urgent cases.
Former president Václav Klaus told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday that he had voted against the Czech Republic's EU accession in a referendum on joining held in 2003. The Czech Republic joined the EU on May 1, 2004. Mr Klaus is a well-known eurosceptic who hardened his view over the years, nevertheless there had been speculation about his vote. Klaus said after the first integration period during which the EU "tried to liberalise itself, it had strayed from its path and now it was heading towards unification and centralisation". Mr Klaus has suggested the upcoming 10th anniversary needed to be marked but not celebrated.
In the NHL playoffs on Wednesday, the visiting Montreal Canadiens edged the Tampa Bay Lighting 5:4 in overtime. Tomáš Plekanec scored for the Habs in the first period to tie the game at one apiece.
In other hockey news, the new coach of the national Czech squad Vladimír Růžička has said he will hold a spot open on the roster for star player Jaromír Jágr at the upcoming Ice Hockey World Championships. He made clear he was not pressuring the 42-year-old to take a final decision yet on whether he will play at the tournament next month in Belarus. Jágr’s New Jersey Devils failed to make the NHL playoffs this season, leaving the 42-year-old Czech able to play if he feels fit. Jágr and the national team coach were both part of the squad that won gold at the Nagano Olympics in 1998.
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