News Kiev gets offer to exchange hostage OSCE observers for Russian separatists
According to a report published by the Russian Interfax news agency the group of OSCE observers who are being detained by Russian separatists in the town of Slaviansk, in eastern Ukraine, are unharmed and are being treated as “guests”. The town’s pro-Russian mayor Vjacheslav Ponomarjov confirmed on Monday that an offer had been made to exchange them for Russian separatists held in Kiev. According to the Czech ambassador to Kiev, the negotiations are complicated and the Ukrainian government has not yet responded to the offer. The Ukrainian Intelligence Service says it has evidence that the operation in which OSCE observers were taken hostage was masterminded by the Russian military intelligence. Among the captives are German, Czech, Polish and Danish nationals. A Swede who suffers from diabetes was released on Sunday.
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The Czech cyclist Leopold König will be a member of Britain’s Team Sky from next season. König, who is 26, finished seventh in this year’s Tour de France – his first – with the second-division team NetApp-Endura. He has signed a two-year contract with Team Sky, which features among other riders Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.
The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, says the European Union should consider easing sanctions against Russia if a truce in Eastern Ukraine remains in place and if Russia gas supplies to Ukraine are resumed before the winter. Speaking on Tuesday, Mr. Sobotka said if the truce between Ukraine and Russia continued there would be no reason for the EU to tighten sanctions or to introduce new ones. The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, recently described sanctions against Russia as unnecessary and counterproductive.
An exhibition on the Fluxus art movement is set to get underway at the Czech National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace modern art venue on Wednesday. Fluxus, which originated in New York, brought together artists, composers and designers. The network’s best-known member was John Cage while Czech artist Milan Knížák was also an exponent. The exhibition offers an interactive presentation of the movement’s history via materials related to Fluxus festivals held in Europe between 1962 and 1977.
Businessman Ivo Rittig and other persons charged with asset-stripping the firm Oleo Chemical took a total of CZK 20 million out of the company, two newspapers reported on Tuesday, quoting the formal indictment. Mr. Rittig and nine others arrested on Friday are also suspected of money laundering and tax evasion. Mr. Rittig was previously accused of creaming off a percentage of the cost of tickets for the Prague public transport system via another company that has been linked to the Oleo Chemical case. Based in Moncaco, Mr. Rittig is said to have influence over some politicians and was reported to have contact with Jana Nagyová, whose arrest while she was prime minister Petr Nečas’s chief of staff helped bring down his government in 2013.
Events are being held at the German Embassy in Prague to mark the 25th anniversary of the transit of thousands of East German refugees through what was then the diplomatic mission of West Germany. Among those taking part is then West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who on September 30 1989 told thousands of refugees camped in the embassy’s grounds that they could travel to his country. The current German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is also taking part in the anniversary celebrations, as are around 150 of those who fled to the West at the time.
The Czech Republic’s candidate for European commissioner, Věra Jourová, is set to stand down from her current post as minister for regional development on Friday. A spokesperson for President Miloš Zeman said he had already accepted her resignation. Ms. Jourová, who represents the ANO party, is set to take the justice, consumers and gender equality portfolio on the European Commission and will face the traditional “grilling” by MEPs on Wednesday. ANO have not yet announced her replacement in cabinet.
The state attorney’s office has filed charges of conspiracy to murder against a doctor serving a 12-year jail term for the rape and blackmail of his assistants. The state attorney says Dr. Jaroslav Barták, who is 56, planned three killings while he was in custody in Liberec towards the end of last year. If found guilty of the latest charges, he could face another 15 to 20 years behind bars. The newspaper Právo reported that Dr. Barták was planning to murder former military intelligence chief Andor Šándor, lawyer Oldřich Choděra and Orthodox priest Eugen Freimann.
The heads of hospitals who have been fined hundreds of millions of crowns for alleged improper use of EU funds between 2008 and 20013 have protested against what they call manipulated, selective audits by the Finance Ministry. Many of the hospitals are refusing to pay the fines on the grounds that previous audits failed to uncover any irregularities. The Finance Ministry, which ordered the audits, says they are merely fulfilling EU directives. Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček says the collective accusations of hospital heads are serious and has asked Finance Minister Andrej Babiš to look into the matter.
Christian Democratic Party leader Pavel Bělobrádek is to join the ranks of ministers in the country’s National Security Council, the Office of the Government announced on Wednesday. The inclusion of Mr. Bělobrádek comes at the instigation of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on the grounds that the leaders of all three coalition parties should rightly be represented in the council. The National Security Council, which is currently made up of ten government ministers, coordinates steps in the event of a natural disaster or state of emergency. Presently the party is represented in the council by Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka.
The Czech government is seeking to speed up economic growth and create new jobs in 2015, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said at Monday’s meeting of the Association of Industry and Transport in Brno. He said the government was in the process of finalizing an action plan to support these goals which involved expanding the infrastructure and constructing new flats and schools. The prime minister likewise emphasized the role of economic diplomacy in boosting the growth of the export-oriented Czech economy. This year’s economic growth is expected to reach 2.6 percent, by far exceeding the most optimistic forecasts.