The chairman of the Social Democrats, Stanislav Gross, has urged the party to abandon their utopian and populist attitude to the "social state". He told 500 delegates at a conference in Prague the Social Democrats should join the mainstream of European social democracy and not stick dogmatically to what he called "old visions". Meanwhile, members of the party close to the labour minister, Zdenek Skromach, are in favour of maintaining the Social Democrats' traditional socialist values. Mr Skromach will face Mr Gross in a vote for the party leadership in March.
Rent on rent-regulated apartments will rise by a maximum of eight percent a year for the next five or six years, according to the local development minister, Jiri Paroubek. The increases will affect one fifth of flats in the Czech Republic; like free-market rents they will vary in different parts of the country. Mr Paroubek said deregulating rents in one go was impossible because it would threaten social cohesion.
The manager of Arsenal football club, Arsene Wenger, said he tried and failed to sign Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech before he joined Chelsea last year. Wenger said Arsenal wanted to sign the player from French club Rennes, but could not get a work permit for him. Cech, who is 22, has been a huge success since joining Chelsea, conceding just eight goals in 24 league games this season.
The Czech Republic is likely to have the lowest turnout of any European
Union state holding a referendum on the EU constitution, according to
research by the Eurobarometer polling agency. Only 19 percent of Czechs
surveyed said they would vote. While a quarter of Czechs said they had
never heard of the EU constitution, the number who had was - at 67 percent
- higher than the average in the nine states due to hold referendums.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross wants to hold the vote on the same day as the next general elections in 2006. But the opposition Civic Democrats are threatening to try to block the referendum if it is not held by the end of this year.
The former head of the Office of the Government, Pavel Pribyl, is once again working for the Interior Ministry, according to press reports Saturday. Mr Pribyl was forced to resign last year when it emerged that he had led a riot police unit which attacked anti-communist demonstrators in early 1989. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said Mr Pribyl had been employed in an external capacity to help improve police standards.
Both the Czech and Slovak authorities have denied reports by the Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta that a ransom was paid for the release in November of Miriam Jevikova, a Slovak woman who was kidnapped five months earlier while working for a Czech aid agency in Ingushetia. The internet site of the Russian paper said 4.5 million crowns (almost 200,000 US dollars) had been handed over to Ms Jevikova's kidnappers.
The ruling Social Democratic Party is preparing for an important conference this weekend, with the party's future policy direction up for debate. Chairman Stanislav Gross and Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka are reportedly in favour of a more centrist approach. Meanwhile, Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach is calling on the Social Democrats to stick to their traditional socialist principles. The Social Democrats lost European Parliament, Senate and regional elections last year, and currently have around 14 percent voter support.
The 12th annual Days of European Cinema film festival has just got underway in Prague. It opened on Thursday night with a screening of the Hungarian film Kontroll, attended by the producer and two of the film's stars. After it ends in the capital on February 6, the festival moves on to the Czech Republic's second city Brno.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has sharply criticised the European Union for deciding to no longer invite Cuban dissidents to receptions at EU states' embassies in Havana. The EU has reportedly adopted this position so as to facilitate increased dialogue with the Cuban authorities. However, in an article in France's Le Figaro newspaper Mr Havel described the EU's stance as "diplomatic apartheid". He said the Union could not have found a better way of tarnishing the ideals of freedom and respect for human rights.