News PM Bohuslav Sobotka calls for quick decision on EU Commission head
Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said the Czech Republic is looking for a quick decision on who should be the new president of the European Commission. Mr. Sobotka said he would like to see agreement reached at a meeting in Brussels at the end of next week. He added that Prague is ready to back the centre-right candidate for the job, former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker. Junker was the outright favorite to occupy the post following last month’s European Parliament elections. But support for him has been slipping with some European leaders, such as the British prime minister, outspokenly opposed to Junker.
For the daily news summary, available after 8pm CET, click here.
The controversial Blanka tunnel complex in Prague will open in late March or early April, the Metrostav construction firm said on Friday. The tunnel, whose construction started in 2007, was originally to open in 2011 but has been hit by many delays, with the latest deadline set for December. The tunnel complex, which should channel through traffic from parts of Prague’s historic centre, has come under criticism for massive costs overruns which reached 37 billion crowns.
Public trust in President Miloš Zeman has fallen sharply, according to a survey by the CVVM agency released on Friday. Some 37 percent of people who took part in the poll said they trusted the president, down from 58 percent recorded last month, a record one-month decline. Trust in the president has been greatly affected by a series of controversial moves by Mr Zeman, including his visit to China, his comments on the crisis in Ukraine and on Russia’s role in the conflict, and an expletive-ridden radio interview, among others.
The remains of two men missing since last month’s explosion at an ammunition storage site in eastern Moravia have been found, the head of the police in Zlín, Jaromír Tkadleček, told a news conference on Friday. The men were employees of the firm that administered the storage facility destroyed by a massive explosion on October; the site was inaccessible for weeks due to continuing explosions of ammunition. The police boss also told reporters that the costs of clearing the area were likely to reach hundreds of millions of crowns.
Former Czech president Václav Klaus told the Russian TV channel Dozhd that the crisis in Ukraine was a continuation of the Cold War that has been provoked by the West. In an interview for the independent TV station, Mr Klaus said the West had used Ukraine’s internal problems to start a new phase of the conflict, and that Russia’s response was a reaction to events in Ukraine, and not their original cause. The former Czech president also suggested that Ukraine was an artificial country that was likely to disintegrate.
Czech speed-skating champion Martina Sáblíková finished second at a 5,000 metres World Cup event in the South Korean capital on Friday, five seconds behind winner Claudia Pechstein of Germany. The result is Sáblíková’s first defeat on the 5,000 metres track since November 2010. The Czech speed-skater, who leads the World Cup’s long-tracks ranking, said the race was difficult and that she had problems with the type of ice used in the event. She will next appear in the 1,500 metres and mass-start events in South Korea.
The police in the north Bohemian town of Litvínov have charged a 24-year-old man with interfering with the election process. The man allegedly offered money and free food and entertainment to dozens of people in the town in exchange for their voting for an unspecified political party during the local elections held last month. However, the town’s elected representation is unaffected by the case as the results of the vote have not been contested. The police are looking into another seven cases of alleged vote-buying in the Ústí nad Labem region.
A spokesman for Czech President Miloš Zeman has rejected allegations that Mr Zeman’s views on foreign policy contradicted the official policies of the Czech government. The president’s views are pro-European, and all his activities are in line with the government’s foreign policy, the spokesman said in a reaction to remark by Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka who said that President Zeman should consult his foreign policy statements with the government before going public with them. President Zeman has come under fire at home and abroad for his controversial statements on the EU sanctions against Russia, the crisis in Ukraine, and the group Pussy Riot, among others.
A 57-year-old man shot himself dead with a pen gun at a police station in Úpice, in north Bohemia, on Thursday night, a police spokeswoman said. The man, who was detained during an attempted robbery, was inebriated at the time of the arrest. He asked to use the toilet at the police station where he shot himself in the chest with a concealed pen gun, instantly killing himself, the spokeswoman said. The case is being investigated by the Czech police’ internal affairs department.
A memorial entitled the Gate to Freedom dedicated to the victims of the Iron Curtain was unveiled near the south Moravian border town of Mikulov on Friday. The monument has the form of 53 vertical iron bars, each bearing the name of a person who died on the Czech-Austrian border during communism. Besides Czechs, some of the victims were from East Germany, Poland and Austria; they were shot dead by Czechoslovakia’s border guards or killed by electricity in the border fence or land mines. The monument was erected by a Czech NGO in cooperation with two Austrian towns, and was partly paid for by the EU.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned the Czech Ambassador to Kiev Ivan Počuch to protest against some of President Zeman’s recent statements relating to Ukraine. The ministry did not specify which statements it found offensive, but said the Czech president’s evaluation of the crisis in Ukraine was “unacceptable” and undermined the two countries’ traditionally good relations. According to the Ukrainian news agency Unian the ministry was referring to statements that Mr. Zeman made in a recent interview for Russian television in which he described the situation in Ukraine as a civil war and criticized the EU sanctions against Russia.