News Czech five percent barrier for EP elections could be lifted
The Czech Supreme Administrative Court will recommend to the Constitutional Court that it cancel the current five percent threshold in the elections to European Parliament valid in the Czech Republic, judge rapporteur Tomáš Langášek told journalists on Tuesday. The court panel complied with the complaint lodged by the Green Party; the Czech Pirate Party also presented a similar case in its complaint. The Supreme Administrative Court will suspend both proceedings, awaiting the verdict by the Constitutional Court. In the May elections to the European Parliament, both parties finished not far below the 5 percent threshold with 4.78 percent for the Pirate Party and 3.77 percent for the Greens.
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Czech eighth-graders have come out top in the ICILS international test in computer literacy, the Education Minister Marcel Chládek said at a press briefing in Prague on Thursday. Students from Ontario province came second and Australian students third. 3,200 students from 170 Czech schools took part in the test.
The Czech police have detained five Vietnamese nationals suspected of smuggling their compatriots to European countries within an international raid against people smugglers, Pavel Hanták, spokesman for the Czech police unit fighting organised crime, said on Thursday. Across Europe 26 people smugglers were arrested and 15 illegal migrants detained. All the five foreigners arrested in the Czech Republic were accused of organising illegal border crossings for which they may face up to eight years in prison each. According to Europol the gang smuggled Vietnamese citizens mainly to Britain, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany and Poland and it received 10,000 to 15,000 euros from each illegal migrant. The gang started smuggling people in 2013 or even earlier and it used forged passports and other false documents.
The Finance Ministry has filed a criminal complaint against the Teaching Hospital in Ostrava over what is describes as the overpriced purchase of a cyber-knife. The Finance Ministry which has criticized an alleged lack of transparency in health spending, claims that at 200 million crowns the cyber knife was grossly overpriced and could have been acquired at half the price. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš said on Thursday that his past conflict with Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček, who managed the hospital at the time of the purchase, was unrelated to the ministry’s decision to file the complaint.
The health authorities warn that there has been a significant increase in the number of patients with whooping cough around the country. In the first ten months of this year doctors registered 2,188 cases which is threefold the number registered in the same period last year. They say the actual number of people who may have contracted the disease is likely to be much higher since people with lighter symptoms don’t seek treatment and spread the disease further. In the Czech Republic babies undergo compulsory vaccination against the disease, but the vaccine is only effective for up to 12 years at the most.
The police closed eleven secondary schools in the Zlín region on Thursday due to a bomb threat. The schools received e-mails warning of an explosion due to take place on Friday morning. The schools as well as nearby offices and flats have been evacuated and pyrotechnics experts are searching the premises. The police are taking the warning seriously and the schools in question will remain closed on Friday. If the author of the mails is detected they could face up to three years in jail for scaremongering.
The biggest Czech health insurance company VZP has announced it will stop sending cancer patients to the Prague Proton Therapy Centre and arrange for them to get treatment in Munich instead. The health insurer, which has been locked in a drawn-out dispute with the center over a dubious contract signed in the past, claims that the proton therapy center has doubled the cost of treatment since the summer and the price of treating a patient is now significantly higher than it would be in Munich. The insurer refuses to recognize the dubious contract signed in the past and the cost of treatment for each patient is now being settled individually.
Laboratory tests have confirmed that the capsules sent to Interior Minister Milan Chovanec by post on Tuesday contained a cyanide-based poison. The envelope was addressed to the interior minister and reportedly came from a country in northern Europe. There was no letter attached and no one has claimed responsibility. The letter was opened by a member of the interior minister’s staff and handed over to the police. The matter is being investigated.
Around two hundred students staged a fresh protest against President Miloš Zeman on Wednesday evening. The demonstration organized by students from Prague’s Technical University took place outside the gates of Prague Castle with protesters signing a petition for the Senate to debate some of the president’s recent controversial statements. They have so far collected 3,000 signatures though they would need 10,000 for the Senate to comply with their request. The hour long protest ended without incident.
The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has told a deputy foreign minister, Petr Drulák, to respect the country’s foreign policy in the field of human rights. Mr. Drulák has described the policies advocated by Václav Havel, which put a relatively strong emphasis on human rights, as mistaken and harmful to Czech interests. Mr. Sobotka has endorsed Mr. Havel’s views on a four-day trip to the United States linked to events celebrating the late president’s legacy. In recent times the Czech Republic has made marked efforts to improve relations with China, which has been criticised for its human rights record.
A bust of the late Václav Havel has been unveiled at the US Congress in Washington. Wednesday’s ceremony was the culmination of a series of events held under the banner Celebration of Freedom marking the 25th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, in which Mr. Havel led the country to democracy after over four decades of communist rule. The dissident turned president is only the fourth European to be honoured in this way. Among those who spoke at the unveiling ceremony were John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister.