News Figure skater Tomáš Verner postpones retirement
Czech figure skater Tomáš Verner has backtracked on his earlier decision to retire after the Sochi Olympics. In a statement released by his agent on Tuesday, the 28-year-old said he was going to compete at the world championships to be held in Japan next month. Verner finished 11th at the Winter Games; he was planning to take part in a series of exhibition events alongside Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko before retiring and completing his university studies. However, the Czech figure skater said that as the series was cancelled, he decided to postpone his retirement until after the world championships.
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Bells tolled and sirens wailed around the country at midday on Thursday in memory of the eight victims of the Uherský Brod shootings. The town is still recovering from the worst incident of violence in the country’s modern history when a deranged sixty-three-year-old man entered a pub and fired indiscriminately at those present. Seven men and one woman – the waitress –were killed. The incident has triggered debate on gun-ownership and the distribution of rapid reaction forces around the country. The Zlín region, where the incident occurred does not have its own rapid reaction force and is covered by the one in Brno which arrived at the scene too late.
An elite tax-evasion unit code-named Cobra, which was established by the government last year, is reported to have prevented losses to state coffers to the tune of 1.7 billion crowns in the first nine months of its existence. The squad uncovered 11 cases of large-scale tax fraud, opening the way for charges to be brought against 82 persons. Police President Tomáš Tuhý, who briefed the government on the squads’ work on Thursday, said he wanted to expand it by 150 people over the next four years.
The Czech Republic has a vested interest in partaking in joint military exercises of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said in Thursday in response to the news that the US was considering expanding Operation Atlantic Resolve to cover the Czech Republic, Hungary and Russia's southern neighbor, Georgia. Exercises between US troops and Polish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian forces began last April at these countries’ request as deterrence to possible Russian aggression. The Czech Prime minister said the country would offer to host some of the exercises at its military bases.
Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec has suggested that local councils be given more power in deciding who is issued with gun permits and their prolongation. Chovanec was speaking following Wednesday’s meeting of the lower house of parliament’s security committee which discussed the shootings in Uherský Brod last week. The minister also suggested that ways of getting the police special intervention squads faster to more distant parts of the country should be investigated. He said that probably would not mean the creation of special units in every region but more likely boosting the current units, for example by providing helicopters, so that they could get to the scene quicker, he added. A report on the options should be drawn up by the end of March. The special intervention squad had to travel from Brno to Uherský Brod, around 90 kilometres or at least an hour away by road.
Czech capital Prague has been ranked 68th in a worldwide list of the best places for the quality of life by the US consultancy Mercer. The three top placed cities were Vienna, Zurich, and Auckland, New Zealand. Prague is the top ranked city in post-communist Central Europe, although former East Germany’s Leipzig is placed 49th. Budapest and Slovenian capital Ljubljana were ranked 75, Warsaw 79th, and Bratislava 81th.
The Czech government on Wednesday for the first time discussed the Uherský Brod shooting during which a 63-year-old gunman shot dead eight people in a restaurant before taking his own life. The discussion focused on a summary of the information collected so far by the Ministry of Interior and a precise timeline of the events which took place on February 24. The ministry and police have been on the defensive following the worst attack of its kind in recent Czech history. It was later revealed that police intervention occurred hours after the shootings had taken place although some individuals who had hidden in the restaurant and nearby were still at risk. Police say they had no way of knowing how many hostages the gunman had.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka called on ministries Wednesday to publish all deals and agreements whose value is higher than 50,000 crowns. Sobotka said the government’s central office had urged the step at the start of the year but the response from ministries to toe the line has varied greatly. The prime minister’s moves come as moves to create a central registry of government agreements and deals enters a final phase. The target is for the registry to be approved during the first half of this year. Sobotka’s latest call sparked a sharp reaction from ANO leader and Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš who claimed that his ministry had called in February for others to follow its example on the format publishing details of deals. The move, as well as the register of agreements, is aimed at making the working of government more transparent and reducing the possibilities for corruption.
Prague zoo is seeking to create a small atelier for the production of paper – from elephant droppings. Inspiration for such production comes from Asian countries, such as Sri Lanka, where such production is common. Prague City Council, which manages the zoo has set aside 2.5 million crowns to finance the facility. The main aim is that visitors themsleves could try to produce paper. The production proces involves boiling the elephant droppings in water, mashing them up, and finally heating them again and leaving the mash to dry in the sun.
Separately, police detained on Wednesday the former general secretary of the defence ministry, Jan Vylita, according to the news server Aktualne.CZ. The move is being connected with the police swoop on a ministry building on Tuesday in which four people were charged concerning the illegal transfer of property. Vylita’s security clearance was removed last month by Czech authorities meaning that he had to quit his job as one of main auditors at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
The Catholic Church in the Czech Republic has said bells will be rung from churches across the country in tribute to the victims of the Uherský Brod shooting last week. The tribute will last for two minutes and 20 seconds just after midday on Thursday. The Czech government recommended the step on Wednesday. As well as bells, emergency sirens in towns and cities will also go off at noon on Thursday in memory of the victims following the cancellation of the tradition practice on the first Wednesday of each month.