The country's largest opposition party, the right-of-centre Civic
Democrats, have wrapped-up a two-day party congress in the Moravian
city of Brno, outlining the party's priorities ahead of national
elections in 2006. At the weekend, party members criticised the current
government coalition, expressing alarm over allegedly growing ties
between the ruling Social Democrats and the Communists. On Sunday,
Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek stressed his party would take
solutions "directly to the people", and would aim at a positive
The Civic Democrats continue to top public opinion polls, but the Social Democrats have been gaining. Both parties have set goals of winning more than 30 percent of the vote next year.
Czech cross-country skier Katerina Neumannova has finished first in the women's 10 km Nordic World Cup skiing freestyle in Finland. Neumannova beat her nearest rivals Russian Julia Chepalova and Estonian Kristina Smigun on Sunday, beating Chepalova by approximately 21 seconds. Neumannova holds four medals from past Winter Olympics. Her World Cup finish on Sunday has brought her number of career wins on the World Cup circuit to fourteen.
Justice Minister Pavel Nemec has said he will call for 300 million crowns (roughly 12 million US dollars) and 200 new employees for the Czech prison service. The justice minister made the comments during a Sunday news programme, saying he planned to submit the financial requirements to the cabinet following the 2006 state budget vote scheduled in the lower house this week. According to Mr Nemec, the impulse behind his decision was a recent escape by two Czech convicts from a maximum security prison, which cast light on the poor situation - not enough funds and too few personnel - in Czech prisons.
Around 50 history fans in historic-replica costumes marked the 200th
anniversary of Napoleonic battles on Bohemian territory on Sunday.
Several hundred on-lookers turned out to watch the enacted battle near
the village of Stoky, representing an original clash between Napoleon's
armies and Austrian forces in 1805. The battle, won by the Austrians,
was a Pyrrhic victory, coming two days after Napoleonic forces won at
Austerlitz (Slavkov, near Brno).
Later this week, around 4,000 visitors from 23 countries are expected to visit the Czech Republic to take part in a re-enactment of the famous Battle of Austerlitz, near Brno.
Speaking in Brno on Saturday, the head of the Christian Democratic Party, Miroslav Kalousek, warned of growing influence by the Communist Party under current Prime Minister and Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek. Mr Kalousek alluded to the so-called "threat" during Saturday's party congress of the opposition Civic Democrats, who unveiled their election strategy ahead of next year's election. Both the Christian Democrats and the Civic Democrats have consistently ruled-out co-operation with the Communists, while the current prime minister has suggested the Communists could play a greater role in Czech politics in the future. Despite being one of the few unreformed leftist parties remaining in post-communist Europe, the Czech Communist Party enjoys relatively high voter support. Recent opinion polls place the party 3rd among voters, at around 13 percent.
The health minister has said he will begin looking for a candidate to
succeed Mrs Musilkova at the VZP, saying he would discuss suitable
candidates with the VZP's board of directors and members of different
political parties. He has also indicated that forced administration of
the VZP could end as soon as January.
Mrs Musilkova's stepping down was conditional to the forced administration wrapping up. The minister is expected to put forward several names over the next few days.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has met with his new German counterpart Frank Walter Steinmeier, to discuss a number of foreign policy issues including the movement of labour and the European Union's budget outline for the years 2007 - 2013. Meeting in Berlin, Germany's Foreign Minister outlined no changes from the previous government on the transition period banning members of new EU countries from working in Germany. At the same time, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda stressed that Czechs represented no danger for the German labour market. During their meeting Svoboda and Steinmeier also discussed a project looking at the historic expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Europe - including Poland and Czechoslovakia - after World War II.
Jirina Musilkova, the head of the country's largest health insurance company, the VZP, has said she will step down on January 1st, 2006. Mrs Musilkova made the announcement on Friday, citing political pressure on her and co-workers as the reason for her decision. Both the prime minister and the health minister, David Rath, have strongly criticised Musilkova in recent weeks for alleged mismanagement, leading the VZP into billions of crowns of debt. Both had called for her resignation, and earlier this month the health minister brought the insurer under forced administration. Not all, however, have rated Mrs Musilkova negatively: on Saturday President Vaclav Klaus praised Musilkova's work, saying he hoped those involved would find the strength to thank the outgoing VZP head for 'many years of service'. Musilkova has headed the state-owned company for seven years.
Around 30,000 trade union members demonstrated in Prague on Saturday in support of new labour legislation proposed by the ruling Social Democrats. The amendment, passed in a first reading in the lower house, has been criticised by some experts as well as government coalition members and the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats. The smaller parties in government would like to curb the influence of trade unions set-out in the amendment, while trade unionists want no further changes. The draft has also said to contradict the Constitution in a number of areas, a charge denied by the unions.
The environmental group Greenpeace says carp caught in the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries contains worryingly high levels of phthalate, a harmful chemical compound found in plastics. A spokesperson said Greenpeace found traces of the chemical far above prescribed limits in carp from three stores in Prague. Carp is the traditional Czech Christmas meal.
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