Czech daily news roundup: Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Czechs join condemnation of Russian NGO dissolution, Babiš gears up for possible presidential bid, seven charged with torture in Czech prison. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 29.12.2021 08:03:00 (updated on 29.12.2021) Reading time: 5 minutes

16:45 Covid testing requirements for companies mulled by government

Czech Minister of Health Vlastimil Válek said that the government hopes to impose a requirement on companies to test all their employees twice a week starting on January 17. Válek said the ideal scenario would be testing for all employees every three days. The proposal is still to be discussed by the cabinet, so no changes are yet confirmed. Currently, only employees who have not received two doses of an approved Covid vaccine or who have not had Covid in the last six months need to be regularly tested at work. The proposed change would make testing mandatory for all except those working from home and those who do not come into contact with anyone else at work, regardless of their vaccination status.

15:55 Government approves measures to combat rising energy prices

The Czech government has approved measures to tackle high energy prices. They include an increase in the housing allowance to help those struggling with high bills. The government will also provide emergency assistance to those in need, while the "Guarantee" program for entrepreneurs affecting by a forced change of energy supplier will be extended. Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the package is intended to help people in a targeted way, focusing specifically on those affected by the energy crisis.

11:30 Pay rise for public sector employees being discussed

The new Czech government is discussing a potential pay rise for public sector workers, although it is thought widespread pay increases are unlikely. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is proposing an increase of up to 6% for salaries in the public sector, such as for social workers, armed forces employees, police officers, health workers and teachers. The proposal would see salaries for social workers and healthcare workers rise by CZK 700 a month. The increase constitutes a reduction of the CZK 1,400 boost previously promised by the ANO administration.

11:20 Government discusses measures to combat high energy prices

Ministers are discussing a set of measures to combat rising energy prices. Talks are underway between the ministers of finance, labor, industry and the environment in the new Czech government. Proposals include an increase in the housing allowance, along with extraordinary immediate assistance and the extension of the "Guarantee" program for entrepreneurs suffering from a forced change of energy supplier. The government is also seeking to reduce energy costs by providing subsidies for households.

11:00 Latest stats suggest Czech crime rate dropped in 2021

According to statistics published on the website of the Czech police, it is likely that the Czech crime rate dropped this year. From January until the end of November, police registered approximately 142,500 criminal offences, which was 13,500 fewer than in the same period last year. Thefts, other property crimes and general criminal offences all decreased. Crime rates in the Czech Republic have been declining steadily in recent years with the exception of 2019. It's thought lower levels of crime during the Covid pandemic may be driven by people staying home, as well as by a lack of foreign tourists.

Russia Dissolution of Russian NGO condemned by Czech leaders

Czech diplomats and politicians have condemned a ruling by the Russian Supreme Court ordering the dissolution of the international Memorial NGO, which uncovers crimes committed under the twentieth-century Communist regime in the Soviet Union. The move has attracted global outrage; a sentiment shared by Czech political leaders.

The Foreign Ministry said the ruling is symbolic of repression and the absence of an independent judiciary in modern Russia. Head of the Czech Senate Miloš Vystrčil meanwhile called the decision inadmissible. The Czech Memorial branch, which will not close as a result of the Russian ruling, meanwhile called the move ridiculous and politically motivated. The Russian Supreme Court liquidated the NGO by arguing it breaches a Russian law on “foreign agents.”

President 2023 Ex-PM Babiš gears up for possible presidential bid

Recently dethroned Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has made headlines by announcing the purchase of a motorhome for traveling around the Czech Republic to meet voters in February. The motorhome is likely to make an appearance in several political campaigns coming up in the next few years, including Babiš’s possible run for Czech President in 2023.

Moving into opposition after October’s general election result, experts are now gauging the former PM's chances of becoming Czech President after the end of Miloš Zeman’s second term, noting the negative views of Babiš held by many voters. It’s believed Babiš’s new political motorhome will be a vehicle for currying personal favor with voters up and down the country in a bid to boost Babiš’s chances in future votes.

Crime Seven charged with torture in Czech prison

Seven guards from the Světlá nad Sázavou women’s prison in the Havlíčkův Brod region have been charged with physical and psychological torture committed against an inmate last January. A prison service spokesperson said the guards reject the allegations; if convicted, they face up to eight years in jail.

The public prosecutor claims five guards handcuffed a convict to window bars, her hands apart and at head level, with the consent of their superior and supervisor. After two hours, the inmate was moved to another stress position for another half an hour, before she was placed with her hands handcuffed at the maximum possible width apart from her body for almost an hour. A spokesperson for the public prosecutor said the practice was intended to humiliate the prisoner.

Politics Trikolóra leader seeks re-election

The Czech political movement Trikolóra will hold leadership elections at the end of January, according to its current Chair Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková, who confirmed that she will run for re-election to the top role in the party, challenged by anthropologist Ivo Budil and lawyer Jindřich Rajchl.

Trikólora is one of the country’s leading Eurosceptic parties, running on a right-wing platform with the Svobodní and Soukromníci parties in the October general election but achieving little success, with only 2.76% of the vote. Majerová Zahradníková will defend her position inherited after the departure of Václav Klaus Jr. from the Trikolóra party. Her political stances include opposition to the EU’s Green Deal, freedom and patriotism.

Economy Bank chief does not expect significant rate rises next year

The Governor of the Czech National Bank Jiří Rusnok has said that it is extremely unlikely that the bank’s board will approve increases in interest rates above 5% next year. Rusnok offered the reassurances during an interview with Czech Radio. Nonetheless, he admitted that another rate increase from the current level of 3.75% is likely.

The national bank last raised the base rate before Christmas, by a single percentage point. Interest rates are rising in an attempt to combat rampant inflation. But Rusnok said rates of over 5% next year are “practically out of the question.” He meanwhile predicted that while inflation will continue to be high in the first months of 2022, inflation of over 10% is unlikely.

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