Czech news in brief for January 5: Friday's top headlines

Czech firefighters arrive in flood-ravaged France, Czechia to commemorate 20 years of EU membership, and more top headlines for Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 05.01.2024 08:55:00 (updated on 05.01.2024) Reading time: 6 minutes

LAW Senator puts forward plan to ban casinos in Prague

Senator and Prague representative Hana Kordová Marvanová has announced plans to put forward legislation that would ban casinos and live gambling games in Prague. Prague has had a partial gambling ban since 2016, which has since gradually been revoked by the Ministry of Finance, slated to end in March. 

Marvanová's proposal responds to opposition and coalition interests aiming to reintroduce widescale gambling in Prague. She says that the Czech Antimonopoly Office, which has previously issued two fines to Prague for its past crackdowns on gambling, would be unable to punish Prague for a casino ban. Marvanová is part of the ruling Spolu coalition, which is divided on the issue of gambling’s legality.

POLITICS Zeman: Czechia lagging behind 'like during communism'

Former Czech President Miloš Zeman, in a delayed Christmas message on Facebook, claimed that Czechia was lagging behind other European countries “like under communism.” He criticized the current government’s incompetence for the country's poor economic situation. He cited the Czech Republic's struggle in handling issues like the Ukraine conflict and the energy crisis compared to other nations.

Zeman had postponed his speech due to the tragic shooting at Prague's Charles University. He highlighted the fact that Czechia has the highest inflation and debt rates in Europe. The ex-president named the current Czech ministers who, in his opinion, do not have the education and expertise for their ministry. He urged citizens to vote in the next general election.

Justice Over 80 whistleblowers in Czechia came forward in 2023

The Czech Justice Ministry has announced today at a press conference that last year it received 81 reports from whistleblowers after the country’s act on whistleblowing was introduced. The ministry saw 20 of the reports as substantiated and forwarded them to other authorities. 

The Oživení non-governmental organization dedicated to supporting whistleblowers, which was present at the conference, raised concerns about political influence hindering law enforcement. Research presented by Oziveni revealed increased skepticism among people about reporting illegal activities at work. Reasons cited included doubt in its effectiveness (40 percent), fear of job loss (32 percent), and reluctance to be seen as an "informer" (15 percent).

TRAFFIC Czechia reports second-lowest road death toll since 1961

According to Deputy Police President Tomáš Lerch, last year's road traffic accidents resulted in 455 fatalities in the country – the second-lowest amount since statistics began to be properly recorded in 1961. Only in 2022 were there fewer deaths on Czech roads. The officials also reported a total of 94,945 traffic accidents in 2023, marking a decrease of 3,515 compared to the previous year. 

The average frequency of road collisions was one every five and a half minutes nationwide. Additionally, there was a year-on-year increase in the number of injured individuals, which reached 25,687, and material damage amounted to nearly CZK 7.7 billion in total.

PRAGUE SHOOTING Collection of candles outside CU's Arts Faculty building begins

The collection of candles outside Charles University's Faculty of Arts building started this morning, with about 15 volunteer students collecting the hundreds of candles and other items left to honor the victims of the Dec. 21 shooting. 

The university has confirmed it will retain these items to create a permanent memorial honoring those who were killed – its shape or form has not yet been determined. The candles that cover the stairs of the building will remain in place.

AUTO INDUSTY New-car sales jumped by over 15 percent in 2023

According to representatives of the Association of Automobile Importers speaking at a press conference today, sales of new passenger cars in the Czech Republic rose by 15.3 percent year on year in 2023, to 221,422. However, demand declined gradually throughout the year, despite the increase in registrations due to orders from previous years. Sales of light-commercial vehicles increased by 34.7 percent, to 22,780 cars. 

For this year, consulting firm PwC predicts sales to range between 200,000 and 220,000 cars. Škoda was the top-selling brand with a 23-percent increase in sales, followed by Hyundai and Volkswagen. The most popular model was the Czech-made Škoda Octavia.

WARNING Flood warnings at highest level in south of country

This morning, Czechia saw high-level flood alerts on the Vltava River in Český Krumlov and four spots along the Elbe River. Seven locations reported the second-highest flood alert, while 50 places issued medium- or low-level flood alerts. The Elbe's water levels are predicted to peak in Němčice (Pardubice) tonight and in lower areas by Saturday morning, slowly receding thereafter. Both Elbe River reservoirs are at full capacity. 

Český Krumlov expects prolonged high water levels due to increased releases from the Lipno reservoir caused by rain and snowmelt in the Bohemian Forest. Prague has a low-level alert until next week, although no serious flooding is expected in the capital.

Aid Czech firefighters arrive in flood-ravaged France

A Czech firefighting team from Hlucin, North Moravia, arrived in flood-stricken Pas-de-Calais, northern France, following heavy rains that began last week. The 18-member team, equipped with two high-volume pumps, an amphibious vehicle, and a rescue boat, reached the area after a day's journey.

Evacuations and power outages affected hundreds in the region, submerged by the swollen River Aa. With parts still underwater since November, the Czech firefighters are on-site, awaiting instructions. Authorities advised limited movements in affected communities. About 200 people evacuated, and 10,000 households faced power disruptions on Thursday.

Shooting Charles University FF UK semester to start in February

Prague's Faculty of Arts at Charles University (FF UK) will begin its summer semester on February 19 as planned, excluding the fourth floor of the main building, the site of a recent mass shooting, which may stay closed for the entire semester. Repairs to over 130 damaged doors will cost millions. Dean Eva Leheckova noted gradual reopening, with potential initial online lectures.

Exam periods remain on schedule, offering voluntary exams. Options like individual study plans or waived fees for affected students are under consideration. A memorial on Jan Palach Square, with a bonfire throughout January, will commemorate the tragic event. The Charles University Endowment Fund, now at CZK 73 million, aids those impacted.

Anniversary Czechia to commemorate 20 years in EU with events

The 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic's EU membership will be commemorated through diverse events this year, including conferences at the Liechtenstein Palace and Prague Castle, Czech Minister for European Affairs Martin Dvořák announced this week. Commencing with a conference on Jan. 22 at Liechtenstein Palace, the anniversary will assess the impact of EU membership on the Czech economy and society, with Prime Minister Petr Fiala and European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová

An international conference is scheduled at Prague Castle on April 30. Additional events include a business perspective evaluation by the Czech Chamber of Commerce on April 4 and a gala concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on April 30 at the Rudolfinum concert hall. No state budget allocation has been made for the celebrations, with discussions ongoing regarding potential sponsorship.

Education Three in 10 Czech primary schools to cut staff

Approximately three in ten Czech primary schools may reduce teaching staff and eliminate around 400 teaching positions in the upcoming school year, according to a draft presented by school organizations and unions. The proposed changes, discussed with Education Minister Mikuláš Bek, would impact roughly 1,250 out of 3,900 primary schools, primarily affecting small rural schools.

The Education Ministry aims to cut the maximum funded teaching hours due to budget constraints, with plans to halt the increase in teacher numbers and ensure salaries remain at 130 percent of the national average. Ongoing discussions will address potential impacts on education quality. Trade unions previously protested against the ministry's proposal, leading to strikes in late November.

Economy Defence Ministry reallocates CZK 1.1 billion of unused funds

The Czech Ministry of Defence announced the reallocation of CZK 1.1 billion from the unutilized 2023 budget to this year's budget. The move, made possible by the newly approved defense financing law, aims to fund strategic projects in subsequent years. Facing prior criticism for underspending, the ministry will carry forward CZK 500 million for capital expenditure in 2024.

Additionally, CZK 320 million will be allocated to mandatory expenditures for personnel recruitment, while CZK 240 million will cover unutilized funds in research, development, and innovations, aiding existing commitments and emerging needs. The ministry defends the reallocation as essential for financing unforeseen requirements, such as the Czech Republic's participation in the European Peace Fund.

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