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15-05-2014 17:48 | Chris Johnstone

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Former prime minister’s advisor facing corruption charge over Austrian armoured car purchase: report

The Supreme State Attorney’s Office in Prague on Thursday said it had pressed charges in a corruption case involving the purchase of armoured transporters for the Czech army from the Austrian arms company Steyr. Public service broadcaster Czech Television reported that the man charged with corruption is former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek’s infamous right hand man, Marek Dalík. Dalík has been investigated by police on suspicion that he demanded a payment of 500 million crowns to make sure that the lucrative order for 107 vehicles was won by the Austrian firm. The deal was eventually signed in 2009. Dalík served as Topolánek’s advisor between 2006 and 2009. The maximum sentence for corruption in such a case would be 10 years.

Czech PM: Greater cooperation on defense needed among V4 countries

The Visegrad 4 (comprising the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia) should increase cooperation on defense, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Thursday at a V4 meeting in Bratislava. Mr Sobotka stressed that NATO was the pillar of security in eastern and central Europe; the alliance has gained new urgency and purpose following Russia’s military intervention in Crimea and the amassment of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border. Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he was in favour of a larger NATO presence – some 3,000 to 4,000 troops – on the alliance’s eastern border by 2016. Earlier this week, the Czech defence minister, Martin Stropnický, fumbled an interview with Reuters when he suggested a majority of Czechs would be unhappy with foreign troops on the ground, as they still remembered Soviet troops in the country after 1968. He later shifted his position, putting forward a declaration reaffirming the Czech Republic’s commitment to NATO. The declaration passed in the lower house on Wednesday.

Prague looking for power generation cover in case of black out

Prague city council leaders say they are weighing up the possibility of installing fast start-up electricity generation capacity to cover the possibility of a power black out in the capital. Prague mayor Tomáš Hudeček said the possibility of capacity to cover around a third of Prague’s electricity needs was being looked into following the results of February exercises which showed serious shortcomings in the city’s readiness. The mayor said he hoped that state funding might be forthcoming to cover the costs of such emergency power which might total up to a billion crowns.

Andrej Babiš StB agent libel cases reopens in Bratislava

The court case pitting ANO party leader and current Czech minister of finance Andrej Babiš and the Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute, which keeps the archives of the former Communist era secret police, continued in Bratislava on Thursday. Babiš launched the court proceedings in an attempt to clear his name after the institute said he was identified as having been signed up as a police agent under the cover name Bureš. During the previous court session in mid-April a former top StB police officer said Babiš had not been recruited in the 1980’s and a reported meeting never took place. The director of the Slovak institute told Czech Television on Thursday that references to Bureš featured on 12 separate occasions in the archives and it was inconceivable that the case had been fabricated.

Czech pupils score worse in school leaving exams

Czech school leavers performed worse in their written tests this year than last, according to results announced by the education ministry. Around 24 percent of the around 87,500 pupils taking the end of high school exams in maths failed. Failure rates for other subjects were much lower with foreign languages at 3.6 percent and Czech language at 2.7 percent with the overall failure rate at 11 percent. Last year the failure rate for maths was just over 20 percent with lower figures also for foreign languages and Czech as well. Minister of Education Marcel Chládek has pledged to improve the teaching of maths in schools and the training of maths teachers. He also wants to find some way of making maths compulsory as ever greater number of pupils are giving priority to other subjects at its expense.

New book titles increase in 2013 but sector still struggling with higher VAT rate

Almost 17,900 new book titles were published in the Czech Republic in 2013, an increase of around 600 on the previous year, the Czech News Agency reported on Thursday. The figures coincide with the opening of the Czech Republic’s flagship annual book fair, Book World, in Prague on Thursday. New titles peaked in the Czech Republic in 2011 with almost 19,000 being published. Since then the sector has been hit by the imposition of a higher rate of Value Added Tax rate on books and increased costs. The current centre-left coalition government has promised to put books back into a lower VAT band.

Halík collects Templeton Prize at London ceremony

The Czech Roman Catholic cleric Tomáš Halík has received the Templeton Prize in London. The presentation ceremony took place at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on the city’s Trafalgar Square on Wednesday evening. The Templeton Prize, which goes for “progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities”, comes with a monetary award of about USD 1.8 million; Monsignor Halík has said he will put the money into initiatives aimed at boosting dialogue between believers and atheists.

Zeman: If Gross has found Jesus, he should give away wealth

President Miloš Zeman says that if former prime minister Stanislav Gross has found religion, he should give away his fortune. Mr. Gross recently said that he had accepted Christ and apologised to those he had disappointed. Speaking in a radio interview on Wednesday, Mr. Zeman said if he had genuinely become religious he should pay heed to Jesus’s instruction to a rich young man to sell his property, give to the poor and follow him. The president said this was unlikely to happen. Mr. Gross was once Europe’s youngest prime minister but quit politics after questions arose over how he had financed his flat. He later became extremely wealthy through the sale of shares.

Tennis: Berdych to return for Davis Cup semi-final

The Czech men’s tennis team has gotten a boost with new that the country’s top player, Tomáš Berdych, will join the team in its semi-final against France in September. The player changed course after withdrawing earlier this year to focus on his singles career. The semi-final is to be played over three days at Roland Garros stadium in Paris. Berdych was part of the Davis Cup winning team last year and in 2012. In 2011, the Czechs beat Spain and last year, Serbia. Italy faces Switzerland in the other semi-final.

High winds and heavy rainfall expected in east of country

High winds and heavy rain are expected to batter northeast Moravia and Moravia and Silesia from Thursday afternoon until midday Saturday. The Czech weather office warns that up to 120 millimetres of rain could fall over the 48 hour period. The height of major rivers in the region such as the Bečva, Odra, and Morava could rise to the lowest flood alert levels with smaller streams sparking much higher level three alerts, the office said.

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