News OBSE mission makes third futile attempt to enter Crimea
Military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Saturday made a third futile attempt to enter Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, having once again been forced back by Russian troops firing warning shots into the air. The 37-member OSCE mission, which includes two Czechs, was to have monitored the situation in the region, visited Ukrainian military installations in Crimea and the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. Its week-long mission is due to expire on Tuesday. Similarly, UN Special envoy Robert Serry, who arrived in Crimea last Wednesday, was forced to leave the region almost immediately, after being attacked and threatened by pro-Russian activists.
For the daily news summary, available after 8pm CET, click here.
The Czech authorities are planning a major clampdown on fraudulent taxi drivers in order to curb the wide-spread practice of resetting taximeters, the news website ihned.cz reported. The authorities believe that resetting taximeters allows taxi drivers to only tax part of their earnings. The campaign by inspectors from the Czech Trade Inspection Authority, the tax and customs administration as well as from city- and town halls, planned for October, should make sure taxi drivers are complying with new legislation that is to ban such taximeters as of January.
Czech champions Sparta Prague are preparing to face Napoli in the Italian city on Thursday, in their first group stage game of the Europa League. Sparta hope to end their nine-game winless streak in European competitions; manager Vítězslav Lavička said responsible defence was key to success but promised his side would do their best to cause the hosts problems. Sparta will also play Slovan Bratislava and Young Boys Bern in the group stage.
The British police have freed eight Czech citizens “enslaved” in Plymouth, in the southwest of the country, the news website Plymouth Herald has reported. The eight men had reportedly been forced to work for little or no money after having been trafficked into the UK by a criminal gang. Eight people, all of Eastern European origin, were arrested during the operation. The authorities were first tipped of the case in March when a Czech man who escaped his captors contacted the police, the news website said.
Cowardice is rampant in the Czech society, according to President Miloš Zeman. Speaking at a gathering of Czech WWII veterans at Prague Castle on Wednesday, Mr Zeman said there were few Czech people willing to risk their health or lives in defence of their country. The president also thanked the veterans for their service in wartime Czechoslovakia’s armed forces in exile, and said they fulfilled their lives.
The Czech military will provide training to 31 helicopter pilots from Iraq, the Czech Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday, adding that Czech and Iraqi officials signed the respective contract on Wednesday. The training programme is to begin by the end of the year at an air base in Pardubice, and will take 12 months. The ministry also said the first shipment of Czech military aid would be sent to Iraq on Thursday. The Czech government pledged last month to provide 500 million crowns worth of ammunition and grenades to the Kurdish forces fighting against the terrorist group Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš came fifth in a global billionaire political power index compiled by the US think tank Brookings Institute. The ranking, released ahead of the institute’s upcoming book Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, is topped by Bill and Melinda Gates, followed by George Soros and China’s Jack Ma. Mr Babiš, whose assets are estimated at between 75 and 90 billion crowns, built an agriculture, food and chemistry empire in the Czech Republic before his party, ANO, came second in last year’s general elections. He also owns a prominent Czech media company. As finance minister, he has proven to be a strong voice for reducing government spending, according to the survey.
The car manufacturer Škoda Auto sold over 36,000 vehicles in Europe last month, and moved from tenth to ninth place of the best-selling brands on the continent, according to figures by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association released on Wednesday. Compared to the same month last year, Škoda’s sales increased by 21 percent, giving the carmaker a record 5.2 percent market share.. Škoda’s Czech sales however only grew by 7 percent in August year on year.
Deputy head of the opposition TOP 09 party Miroslav Kalousek has refused to apologize to fellow MP, Zdeněk Ondráček of the Communist Party, for calling him a “communist cop” in a lower house debate. The house’s mandate and immunity committee denounced the statement, and demanded that Mr Kalousek apologize to the Communist deputy. Mr Ondráček served as police officer under the communist regime and took part in the brutal suppression of a student march on November 17, 1989, which triggered the Velvet Revolution. But on Wednesday, Miroslav Kalousek said the committee’s decision was shameful, and appealed against the verdict.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday backed draft legislation introducing a third rate of the value added tax. If approved, the proposal, put forth by the government, would establish a 10-percent rate that would apply to books, medicine and baby food, as of January 2015. The Czech Republic currently has two VAT rates, 21 and 15 percent, respectively. The government believes a third, 10-percent rate would lower the prices of the selected goods, benefiting mainly families with children. Opposition leaders criticized the plan as hypocritical, and instead suggested the existing VAT rates should be lowered. A final vote on the proposal in the lower house is scheduled for later this week.
The Czech government is not planning to repatriate ethnic Czechs from Ukraine, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told reporters during his visit to the country. Mr Zaorálek is visiting the Czech community in Zhytomyr on Wednesday to address their concerns over the security situation in Ukraine. In March, some 40 ethnically Czech families asked the Czech authorities for assistance with relocating to the Czech Republic, a plea recently backed by President Miloš Zeman. But Minister Zaorálek said members of the Czech community in Ukraine could use existing channels to repatriate. An estimated 5,000 Czechs live in Ukraine where their ancestors settled in the 19th century.