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Breakfast Brief – 26 May 2009

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Table of Contents

ČR gets first swine flu case
A Czech Airlines pilot recently returned from New York is in home quarantine after being diagnosed with the country’s first case of swine flu. The pilot is not in serious condition and should recover fully within a week, according to chief public health officer Michael Vít. Nine other people, including the pilot’s family and crew colleagues, are also in quarantine.
most Czech press

Press: Paroubek bodyguards use force against demonstrators
Demonstrators at a Social Democratic campaign meeting in Litoměřice yesterday said they were threatened by bodyguards hired by ČSSD chief Jiří Paroubek. A photograph published in Lidové noviny showed one guard holding a protester by the neck. The demonstrators dressed for the event as extraterrestrials and carried signs reading “We flew in to unite with you,” a reference to Paroubek’s 2005 statement that in order to pass its agenda his party would unite with anyone, including Martians.
LN 1, 3, Právo1, 2

Poll shows ODS in front ahead of EP elections
The latest CVVM poll, carried out between 4 and 11 May, showed ODS leading voter preferences for next week’s European Parliament elections. ODS was backed by 36.5% of respondents planning to vote, ČSSD by 28%. The May poll by the STEM agency had ČSSD ahead.
most Czech press

Top traffic cop: No backing off alcohol zero tolerance
Traffic police chief Leoš Tržil told Právo yesterday that his agency maintains a zero tolerance policy for drivers’ alcohol level. Czech media had reported that police would tolerate blood alcohol levels up to 0.24‰, but Tržil said the change was administrative only and that even cases in which the alcohol level does not exceed 0.24% will be referred for proceedings to decide whether the driver should be fined.
Právo1, 5

Cabinet opposes bill to raise speed limit
The cabinet will not support a parliamentary proposal to raise the motorway speed limit from 130 km/h to 160 km/h. Justice Minister Daniela Kovářová said the cabinet did not oppose the increase itself but other features of the measure, but she did not elaborate.

Apocalyptica protests extremists’ use of song in ad
Finnish classical/metal band Apocalyptica is protesting the use of its song Path in an election advertisement by the far-right National Party which proposes a “final solution to the Gypsy question”. In a statement yesterday, members of the band said they support minorities and human rights. Universal Music, which owns the copyright for the song, is considering a lawsuit.
LN 3, Právo 9

Topolánek to lead ODS election list in Moravia
ODS leader Mirek Topolánek said yesterday that he wants to lead the party election list in South Moravia in the early parliamentary elections in October, after winning near-unanimous support from the Brno-centre ODS organisation. Lidové noviny writes Topolánek has not made a final decision yet about his candidacy in South Moravia.

Cabinet backs easing ‘muzzle law’
The cabinet voted to support an amendment to the so-called “muzzle law” that bans making public the contents of police wiretap recordings and the identity of victims and suspects in some crimes. A group of MPs across party lines proposes easing the ban to allow for publication of some material if it is deemed to be in the public interest. The cabinet wants to preserve the current level of protection of children and other victims whose life is being directly affected by the crime.

Interim government OKs policy programme
The interim Czech government yesterday endorsed a policy statement to be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies for a confidence vote next month. PM Jan Fischer said the cabinet has not yet decided on whether to publish the programme before it is sent to the lower house. He added that it does not contain any surprises and lists the EU presidency and maintaining a deficit lower than CZK 170 billion among the priorities.

New system to help find missing children launched
The Interior Ministry yesterday launched the first phase of a new system designed to aid the search for missing children. Information about missing kids will be published on the Czech Police website; in subsequent phases the information will be posted on online news sites and in other media.

Central Bohemia ODS wants to remove Rath
Central Bohemian ODS representatives plan to propose at their next meeting that regional Governor David Rath (ČSSD) be removed from office. Ex-governor Petr Bendl (ODS) accused Rath of using public funds for his own political promotion and of making numerous mistakes, such as refusing to collect legally mandated medical fees from patients.
Právo 4, ČTK

Janota: CZK 150bn-plus deficits through 2012
Finance Minister Eduard Janota said yesterday that the state budget deficit is unlikely to dip below CZK 150 billion before 2012, ruling out euro adoption in the next three years. He estimated shortfalls of CZK 165 billion next year, CZK 160 billion in 2011 and CZK 156 billion in 2012.
most Czech press

Ostrava steel output lowest since 1950s
ArcelorMittal Ostrava has announced it will switch off all but one furnace starting next week, something that has not happened since the firm’s foundation in 1958. CEO Sandjay Samaddar has ruled out redundancies. Evraz Vítkovice Steel, also based in Ostrava, has been using only a half of its capacity for weeks now, with many staff staying at home and drawing reduced salaries.
HN 1, 18

State freezes infrastructure projects
The Transport Ministry said yesterday that dozens of motorway construction and rail modernisation projects will have to be put on hold next year. The infrastructure budget is CZK 50 billion short, and Transport Minister Gustav Slamečka failed to secure Finance Ministry approval for an infusion of at least CZK 20 billion. Czech builders hoped a surge in public works would mitigate a 36% drop in construction output for the first quarter. The Association of Building Entrepreneurs now estimates at least 10% of the sector’s 450,000 workers will lose jobs.
HN 4

Klaus signs bill prolonging rent control
President Václav Klaus yesterday signed legislation to extend the process of rent deregulation, originally due to end this year, by three years. Under the measure, taken in response to the financial crisis, rents will rise gradually until full deregulation in 2012. Landlords’ groups had called on Klaus to veto the bill.

Century 21 challenging Remax on Czech realty market
Century 21, the world’s second-largest real estate agency, last year sold its first 20 franchise licences in the Czech Republic in a bid to compete with international leader Remax, which already has 140 licensed branches in the country. David Krajný, Remax president for the Czech and Slovak Republics, says today Czech realtors’ margins total about CZK 6 billion, but there is space for growth as almost two-thirds of properties are leased or sold without an agent.
HN 18

Arbitration court orders Beran to give up Vítkovice stake
The International Court of Arbitration in Paris ruled that entrepreneur David Beran must transfer a 45% stake in machinery maker Vítkovice Holding (VH) to Karel Komárek’s KKCG Industry. Beran, KKCG and VH Chairman Jan Světlík have been embroiled in a three-year legal fight over the shares.
most Czech press

Opencard costs to reach CZK 1bn without profit
Prague’s Opencard project, which enables users to pay for transport and library services and learn their driving points status with a single card, has cost some CZK 800 million so far, with another CZK 200 million earmarked this year, without returning a profit. Prague City Hall has invested more than half of the total. Project spokesman Martin Opatrný said Opencard will become profitable when more people enrol in the system.
E15 1, 8

Bill to make bank cards safer for clients
Under an EU-mandated bill approved by the cabinet yesterday, Czech banks will have to partially compensate clients for bank card theft exceeding EUR 150 even if a lost or stolen card is misused before the client notifies the bank. Banks will no longer be able to charge clients for blocking their lost cards, but clients who allow their PIN to be stolen along with their card will not be compensated.
HN 15

Student Agency postpones Prague-Ostrava fast trains
Citing market uncertainty, transport company Student Agency postponed its planned launch of express train service between Prague and Ostrava, designed to compete with Czech Railways’ Pendolino service. Student Agency will focus on public services subsidised from public budgets instead.

ČEZ in contention for Serbia tender
Energy giant ČEZ passed into the next round of the tender to construct two coal power plants in Serbia, Reuters reported yesterday. The Serbian government is expected to make the final choice by the end of the year.
HN 18, ČTK

Insurers expect flood of storm claims
Insurance companies anticipate thousands of claims worth tens of millions of crowns as a result of last weekend’s storms. The worst damage was recorded in the north Moravia.

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