The lower house of the Czech Parliament has approved the introduction of passports with biometric data, namely digital photographs and fingerprints. The European Union decided to introduce passports with microchips that hold such data last year. The Interior Ministry says Czech passports with electronic images of the holders' faces will be issued in mid-2006; passports with digital fingerprints in 2008. One of the conditions for the United States to consider waving the visa requirement for Czech citizens is the introduction of such passports.
Several dozen people gathered at Prague's Malostranske namesti, or Lesser Town Square on Wednesday to call onto the government to allocate more money to the cultural sector. The Czech Parliament is currently discussing the state budget for next year. The current proposal earmarks less than 0.5 percent of the budget to the Culture Ministry; the EU average is one percent of the state budget. The amount allocated to culture in the Czech Republic has been decreasing gradually since 1998. This year, is the first time that it has reached below the 0.5 percent mark.
A bill that compensates clients of bankrupt banks has made it through to the second reading in parliament. Under the bill, affected clients will be compensated up to four million crowns (a little under 165,000 US dollars). The Czech National Bank, the Association of Banks, and the Deposit Insurance Fund, are among the organisations and institutions that oppose the plan. They mainly object to the bill making up for money lost by anonymous depositors.
Several patients' associations and producers of medicine have been calling onto the Health Ministry to revoke an order that transfers the rights to buy some medicine to hospitals. As of January 1, hospitals instead of the country's biggest health insurer, VZP, will be responsible for the acquisition of expensive medicine. Health Minister David Rath made the decision in order to lower the 14 billion crown debt of the VZP, which was put under forced administration earlier this month. Patients fear that hospitals would use the money to settle their debts instead of buy medicine and producers say they would have no guarantee that their medicine will be bought.
Thousands of trade union workers will be gathering in Prague this Saturday to protest against an amendment to a proposed new Labour Code. The bill went through the first reading in parliament but employers and some politicians have been calling for an amendment, fearing it gives trade unions too much power. The trade unionists will be travelling to Prague in hundreds of buses and a special train.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek supported a Communist Party proposal on Wednesday to stop the screening process that prevents former Communist agents and other people associated with the former regime from taking government and civil service posts. According to the Prime Minister, the screening laws, which were adopted in the early 1990s, are redundant.
Health Minister David Rath has said a parliamentary commission should investigate alleged links between the opposition Civic Democratic Party and the ailing VZP health insurance company. Mr. Rath, who put the insurance company under forced administration soon after taking office, has openly accused the leading opposition party of abusing VZP funds for dubious projects. The company has a debt of around 14 billion crowns. The opposition Civic Democrats say they are outraged by the accusations and are planning to take the health minister to court.
There is continuing opposition to a planned nuclear waste dump which is to be built somewhere in the Czech Republic. Experts have pinpointed six possible localities in different parts of the country but people living in these areas are actively opposed to the idea. They have been signing petitions against its construction and rejecting offers of financial compensation. The head of the State Institute for Nuclear Safety Dana Drabkova said on Wednesday there might be an alternative solution if several EU member states agreed to build a common nuclear waste dump at an unspecified locality. The Czech Republic needs to reach a firm decision on the location of a future nuclear waste dump by 2025. It should be ready for use by 2065.
The opposition Civic Democratic Party has lashed out at the ruling Social Democrats, criticizing what they called the party's vulgar style of government, corruption scandals and broken promises. Ahead of next years general elections the Civic Democrats have compiled a so-called Black Book of the ruling party's "sins". Opposition leader Mirek Topolanek presented this list of sins to the media at a press conference in Prague. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek dismissed the Black Book as a load of rubbish and said the opposition Civic Democrats lacked a constructive approach to the country's problems.
Frantisek Oldrich Kinsky, a member of the old nobility, plans to sue the Czech Republic for billions of crowns after failing to recover extensive family property confiscated after World War II on the grounds of the Benes decrees. Over the past decade Kinsky has filed a total of 157 lawsuits with various Czech courts over property said to be worth 40 billion crowns. It was confiscated on the grounds that Kinsky's father allegedly collaborated with the Nazis. Kinsky's lawyer says the property was confiscated illegally because at the time it was no longer owned by Kinsky senior but by Frantisek Oldrich, who was a minor at the time.