The state prosecutor in the trial of a gang accused of being behind the contamination of alcohol which resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people has called for life sentences for two of the main defendants. Prosecutor Roman Kafka said in his summing up before a court in the eastern city of Zlín that the crimes of Tomáš Krepela and Rudolf Fian were exceptional and they deserved exceptional punishments. He called for the man accused of being the main distributor of the methanol tainted spirits, Jiří Vacula, to be sentenced to 20 years. A final verdict for the six accused is expected on May 21 or 22. The methanol scandal exploded in September 2012 with the death toll rapidly mounting, especially in the Zlín region.
Czech president Miloš Zeman has said that referenda in two areas of Eastern Ukraine on autonomy could be taken as the expression of the desire of a certain section of the population although there was no question of recognizing the legitimacy of the votes themselves. The head of state’s stance was communicated on Monday by his spokesman. The Czech government, like others in Western Europe, has refused to recognize the referenda held over the weekend by Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Zeman urged as many Ukrainians as possible to take part in presidential elections on May 25. Many Russian speakers in the east say they will boycott them. President Zeman has sought to position himself as a possible intermediary in the crisis between Ukraine and Russia.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic dropped by 0.4 percentage points to 7.9 percent in April, the biggest monthly drop this year according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The total number out of work stands at just under 575,000. The latest drop was partly due to the start of seasonal work as well as the continued upturn in the Czech economy and more people registering themselves as self employed. Unemployment has been on a downward slide since January.
Inflation eased to an annual 0.1 percent in April from March’s 0.2 percent. Price rises were at zero over the month. Cheaper food and drink was partly responsible for the annual slowdown although the cost of meat, milk and milk products are continuing to rise steadily, the Czech Statistics Office announced. Lower gas and electricity prices this year are also having a lasting impact by keeping price rises restrained.
A decision was taken Monday by the Czech government which could pave the way for e-commerce giant Amazon to overturn its original decision and site a second distribution centre on the outskirts of Brno. The government removed a clause banning the use of land being offered to Amazon for warehouses. The clause was inserted more than 10 years ago when the land was transferred from the central to local government and the land use issues were one of the obstacles in the original talks with Amazon. The American company walked away from talks on the Brno site after the city council rejected planning changes needed for the distribution site to go ahead. Since then the council has said it is renewing efforts to win the investment and potential 1,500 jobs.
The Czech Republic has lifted a threat from the European Commission to freeze funding worth tens of billions of crowns because of the country’s failure to put in place sufficiently strong laws for evaluating the environmental impact of major infrastructure projects, Minister for Regional Development Věra Jourová announced on Monday. Jourová said that she and Minister of the Environment Richard Brabec last week won more time to amend the so-called EIA rules. The Commission started proceedings against the Czech Republic for its flawed environmental legislation in April last year. Separately, Jourová said that the final proposal on a new law aimed at shaping a professional and non-politicized Czech civil service should be ready for consultation by the end of this month.
Police are investigating a 540 million crown contract for accounting services sealed by leaders of Prague city council shortly before local elections in 2010, the Czech News Agency reported on Monday. The 20 year contract covering accounting for the city, Prague districts, police, and funded organisations was signed with the Gordic company. Anti-corruption police are now investigating the details on suspicion that competitive tender rules were broken and public officials abused their powers. The deal was finalized in the final weeks of Pavel Bém’s term as mayor before he became a member of parliament for the Civic Democrat (ODS) party.
Prague’s dominant St. Vitus’ cathedral celebrated the 85th anniversary of its final completion and consecration on Monday with a celebratory mass. Although the cathedral was started in 1344 under the reign of Jan of Luxembourg, it was only completed at a very slow pace with funds frequently running out. A final push to complete the cathedral was made to mark the thousandth anniversary of the death of Saint Wenceslas in 1929. In spite of the slow completion, the cathedral is praised for its consistent gothic style.
The 69th Prague Spring international music festival starts in the Czech capital on Monday with a performance of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country by the Czech Philharmonic. The festival offers over 50 concerts by symphony orchestras and other ensembles including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The Prague Spring festival this year focuses on Czech music, and commemorates the 100th anniversary of birth of conductor Rafael Kubelík, one of the festival’s co-founders. The even runs until June 3.
The Czech national hockey team lost to defending champions Sweden 3-2 in the second game at the hockey world championships in Minsk, Belarus, on Sunday evening. The Czechs were 3-1 ahead but Sweden equalized and took two points for a win in a penalty shootout. With three points after two games, the Czechs are ranked fourth in Group A of the championships; on Monday, the Czech team face Canada.
My Prague – Rob Cameron
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