News Official: Increase in number killed by trains may be due to mild winter

25-03-2014 12:54 | Ian Willoughby

Some 59 people have died after being hit by trains in the Czech Republic so far in 2014. The figure is 20 higher than that registered at this time last year. The latest victims were recorded on Monday, one in the Frýdek Místek area in North Moravia and one in Blansko, north of Brno. A spokesperson for the Czech railways inspection body, Martin Drápal, said the increased number of deaths may be because a relatively mild winter has led more people to walk on tracks. Mr. Drápal said in the vast majority of cases those killed had been trespassing illegally on ground closed to the public.

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European Voice suggests EC nominee Jourová got off to good start but fell short

02-10-2014 10:22 | Jan Velinger

The Czech Republic’s candidate for European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Věra Jourová, fielded questions in her three hour confirmation hearing at the European Parliament on Wednesday. While her answers and approach were seen as largely successful by the Czech press, the influential European Voice suggested that the candidate was not entirely convincing. Ms Jourova herself said she had expected the grilling to be “tougher”. On Wednesday, the nominee was asked about ties to influential billionaire-turned politician Andrej Babiš as well as key questions about the commissioner portfolio. At times, her answers were deemed by European Voice to be too general or lacking in commitment to a concrete steps. A decision about her nomination will reportedly be taken next week. 

Belarusian activist says Václav Havel Human Rights Prize contributed to his release

02-10-2014 10:02 | Jan Velinger

Belarusian political activist Ales Belyatsky has told the Czech News Agency that he believed that his winning the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013 contributed to his release from prison three months ago. But the dissident added that the foremost importance of the prize was that the message sent to the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Both, to stop persecuting activists and as signal to Belarusian society that Europe was on its side. Mr Belyatsky said the Czech Republic is still considered a critic of Lukashenko´s government and the Belarusian opposition and nongovernmental organisations felt support. Mr Belyatsky is taking part in a conference organised by the Václav Havel Library in Prague in honour of the fresh laureate of the Havel prize, Azeri human rights activist Anar Mammadli, currently in prison for his work. 

Government nominates legendary WWII heroes for Order of the White Lion

01-10-2014 16:24 | Jan Velinger

The Czech government nominates two legendary Czech WWII heroes – pilot Josef Frantíšek and Captain Otakar Jaroš – in memoriam for the Czech Republic’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion. The final decision will be President Miloš Zeman’s. Josef Frantíšek survived dozens of battles and had 17 confirmed enemy kills. Captain Jaroš, an officer in the Czechoslovak forces in the Soviet Union, fought and died in Sokolovo, Ukraine. He was the first foreigner to ever be given the title Hero of the Soviet Union. 

The Czech Republic’s candidate for the EC fields questions from euro MPs

01-10-2014 15:58 | Jan Velinger

Věra Jourová, the Czech Republic’s candidate for EU Commissioner, faced a grilling from euro MPs on Wednesday not least over her close working relationship with the Czech Republic's finance minister and influential businessman Andrej Babiš. Responding to a question from European MP Laura Ferrara, Ms Jourová explained she had never been interested in Mr Babiš’ business activities or success. Until this week, Ms Jourová was the country’s minister for regional development as well as the deputy chairwoman of ANO, the political movement led by Mr Babiš that came second in last year’s parliamentary elections. Ms Jourová stressed on Wednesday that she would remain independent, making clear she was immune to outside pressure. 

EMS halts Opencard negotiations

01-10-2014 15:32 | Jan Velinger

The company eMoneyServices which owns the rights to the Opencard system used by commuters in the Czech capital, has halted negotiations with City Hall on the sale of part of the firm administering the system. The firm’s spokesman cited as the reason the upcoming communal elections. Negotiations have been ongoing for several months but both sides have charged neither has come forward with a viable solution or offer. EMS spokesman Martin Opatrný has said in the past that the company would not try and block the card’s continued use. The Opencard system cost the city 1.35 billion crowns but Prague failed to renew the license with EMS earlier this year over the amount (around 500 million crowns) which the company requested. 

Prime minister rejects former foreign minister’s stance on arms for Ukraine

01-10-2014 14:09 | Jan Velinger

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has rejected a stance being taken by Karel Schwarzenberg, the country’s former foreign minister and head of the opposition party TOP 09, that the Czech Republic should provide arms supplies to Ukraine. The former minister told the German daily Rheinische Post, in an interview published on Wednesday, that Ukraine needed weapons or that it “had no chance in the fight against well-equipped and trained Russian units”. Prime Minister Sobotka stated that the government had no intention of supplying weapons to Ukraine, saying such a move would be perceived as escalating the situation. He also said that the truce between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels had largely held. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek, the head of the Christian Democrats, has taken a similar view. 

Civil service bill passed by Senate

01-10-2014 12:47 | Jan Velinger

The Czech Senate on Wednesday approved the draft of a new law aimed at depoliticizing and making more efficient the country’s civil service. Forty-one of 71 senators voted in favour. The bill was approved without changes following two hours of debate. The legislation is a compromise with the centre-right opposition, with the government having agreed to drop a provision to create a top civil servant whose office would control the entire system. The new bill also includes a provision under which every minister will have at most two deputies who are political appointees. The later has repeatedly been criticised by President Miloš Zeman. The president has warned MPs that he will take the civil service bill to the Constitutional Court if a veto does not suffice. 

PM: Czech Republic to provide additional aid to countries hit by deadly Ebola outbreak

01-10-2014 12:36 | Jan Velinger

The Czech Republic will provide humanitarian aid worth 4.14 million crowns to countries in Africa hit by the deadly Ebola outbreak, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka confirmed on Wednesday. Funds will be provided by the Czech Health and Interior ministries as well as the Administration of State Material reserves. Most will be used to buy protective gear, including special suits, gloves and goggles. The prime minster stressed that earlier the Foreign Ministry sent three million crowns worth of material aid through Doctors Without Borders. More than 3,000 people have died of Ebola in the worst-hit countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

EU funds department head nominated to succeed Jourová as minister for regional development

01-10-2014 12:23 | Jan Velinger

The head of the EU Funds Department at the Office of the Government, Karla Šlechtová, has been nominated by her party ANO to succeed Věra Jourová as the country’s minister for regional development. The post becomes vacant as of October 3, with Ms Jourová leaving to represent the Czech Republic in the European Commission. Jourová, 50, is to take up the post of EU commissioner for justice, consumer protection and gender equality. The choice of the EU Funds Department head to succeed her has been welcomed by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. 

Religious statute sent to Norway for safekeeping returning to Plzeň after half century

01-10-2014 09:51 | Ian Willoughby

A statue of the Madonna and Child sent to Norway for safekeeping during the communist period is set to be returned to Plzeň’s Cathedral of St. Bartholomew on Wednesday. A priest there asked visiting Norwegian woman named Gerd Qvam to take the sculpture – a copy of a piece made in the 14th century – back to her country at the end of the 1950s for fear that it might be destroyed or confiscated. It is being returned with the help of the Norwegian Embassy in Prague and Norway’s Barrat Due Institute of Music. 



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