Two thousand people have marched through Prague in protest against Health Minister David Rath's policies. The march, attended by doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses, was meant to end a week of protest actions by those who disagree with recent reform measures made to the healthcare sector. Critics of Rath's policies warn against what they see as the nationalization of healthcare. Organizers of Friday's march dressed a live donkey in a red bow-tie, characteristic of those that Minister Rath wears, and marched through Prague to the Office of the Government with the donkey leading the way. Minister Rath says that the campaign against his policies is directed by the opposition Civic Democrats, in an effort to discredit him prior to next weekend's elections.
Country-wide police raids on illegal alcohol production facilities have uncovered another operation in Cercany, a small town in the central Bohemian region. As part of an operation code-named Vibrator, the raid in Cercany uncovered 17 000 litres of spirits in plastic containers and over 12 000 litres of various fake brand-name alcohols and labels ready for use. Reports say that during one week in May, the Cercany facility produced over 6000 litres of rum and 4000 litres of vodka meant for the black market. Losses in taxes to the state are expected to exceed five million Czech crowns. If found guilty, those charged could face up to eight years in jail.
Czech politicians have welcomed the news that Polish citizens will be able to travel to the United States without a visa during an initial two-year trial period. Both Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda see the decision of the American Senate as a positive signal for the Czech Republic too. The current American stipulations for visa-waiver status require a larger military presence in Iraq or in Afghanistan than the Czech Republic currently has, but there are no plans to increase these numbers in order to fulfil the U.S. quota. Jiri Paroubek says that if the Social Democrats win the upcoming elections and he becomes the next Czech prime minister, he will continue to support efforts aimed at achieving visa-waiver status for the Czech Republic. In order to become law, the U.S. Senate proposal must still be approved by Congress and signed by the President.
The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic has officially distanced itself from a group which on Wednesday declared its disapproval of President Vaclav Klaus' criticism of the European Union. Academy of Sciences President, Vaclav Paces, says that his institution is scientific and apolitical in nature, and that the 66 prominent Czech scholars who signed a letter in protest of President Klaus' opinions do not represent the Academy's position, and were merely expressing their personal opinions. President Vaclav Klaus is known for his criticism of EU integration, and at least fifteen Academy members signed the official letter of protest against him. Among the signatories were Senator Josef Jarab, and philosopher and former presidential candidate Jan Sokol.
The Czech Republic's Green Party wants the bear count in the Czech Republic to rise, and the party has incorporated this goal into its election campaign. The Green Party's position is that historically, bears belonged to the environment of Bohemia and Moravia, and their presence should be renewed. Although bears have long ago largely disappeared from the Czech Republic, from time-to-time some surface in the Beskydy Mountains of Moravia, having crossed over from the Slovak Republic in search of food. Sheep are often the victims of bears in the Moravian region, but because bears are an endangered species in the Czech Republic, sheep farmers can merely seek compensation for their losses from the state.
Czech film makers and producers are withdrawing all their works from the competitive section of the Zlin Film Festival, which is due to begin on May 29th. The decision comes after a new legislative proposal regarding support for Czech cinematography was rejected. Film makers say they are unhappy with the position of MPs and President Vaclav Klaus, as well as with Cultural Minister Vitezslav Jandak, who was the president of the Zlin Film Festival until last year.
The Senate has approved a bill that would lower value added tax on certain foodstuffs such as coffee, tea and chocolate but leave the tax rate on alcohol unchanged. The amendment would move the selected items to a preferential, 5-percent VAT bracket, harmonising taxes on all food, while the tax rate on alcohol would remain 19 percent. The bill has yet to be signed into law by the president.
The European Commission has officially informed Austria that safety standards at the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia are adequate. The EU Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs said in a letter to a member of the Austrian Parliament that Temelin's safety standard had been checked by a team of twenty inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency before the plant was put into operation and that no shortcomings were found. Austrian politicians and environmentalists who have been trying to get the plant closed on safety grounds are said to have been surprised and disappointed by the EC's response.
Czech Republic midfielder Vladimir Smicer has suffered a setback in his recovery from a leg injury, putting his participation at the World Cup finals in doubt. The Girondins Bordeaux player has been struggling for fitness since a February tendon injury behind his right knee. At the Czech Republic training camp in Seefeld, Austria, team doctors found a blood clot in his thigh muscle. Team doktor Jiri Fousek said it was unlikely Smicer would play in friendlies before the side's first game at the World Cup against the U.S. on June 12.