The Czech Republic has dispatched a special aid plane to Islamabad to
help treat the victims of earthquake hit Pakistan. The plane was not
loaded with humanitarian aid, as originally planned, but carried all
materials necessary to fully equip a field hospital, including 30 beds.
A team of 14 civilian and military medical workers and nine fire
fighters are also on board the plane.
The Czech government has earmarked 25 million crowns (a little over one million US dollars) for aid to northern Pakistan.
The European Parliament will discuss on Thursday whether to strip Czech MEP Vladimir Zelezny, the former director of the Czech commercial television station Nova, of immunity. The Czech judiciary has asked for Mr Zelezny's parliamentary immunity to be removed a he is under investigation for tax evasion and damaging a creditor. Earlier this month, the European Parliament's legal committee recommended Mr Zelezny be put at the disposal of the Czech authorities.
Health Minister Milada Emmerova has been dismissed from office, after
failing to deal with cash flow problems in the health sector. The health
crisis reached a head when six of minister Emmerova's deputies offered to
resign on Tuesday. Private physicians staged a one day strike last week.
To help stabilise the situation, the government earmarked 3.8 billion
crowns in emergency aid.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek says there are two main candidates for the post. He has refused to reveal their names but expects to find Mrs Emmerova's replacement within a week. His deputy, Zdenek Skromach, will be leading the ministry until a new health minister is appointed, the presidential office announced on Wednesday.
The Czech Republic have reached the playoffs for next year's football World Cup, after a convincing 3-0 win against Finland in Helsinki on Wednesday evening. The Czech goals were scored by Tomas Jun, Tomas Rosicky and Marek Heinz. The Czech Republic won despite the absence of key players such as Jan Koller and Marek Jankulovski. Their opponent in the play-offs will be decided on Friday.
Private doctors, pharmacies and hospitals should start receiving overdue reimbursement payments from the largest Czech insurance company VZP within a week, according to Jan Jelinek the deputy chairman of the Private Doctors Association. The government recently earmarked 3.8 billion crowns in emergency aid to help stabilize the cash-flow problems in the health sector, but critics of the government say the problem cannot be resolved without far-reaching structural reforms. The money crisis in the health sector was brought to a head last Thursday when private physicians held a one day strike to protest the poor payment morale of insurance companies, particularly VZP.
Pakistan, which is dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, has taken up a Czech offer of humanitarian aid. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said a special plane carrying a fifteen-member medical team would be ready to leave the Czech Republic around mid-day on Wednesday. The doctors and nurses are expected to join one of the field hospitals already working in the region. The plane will be loaded with sleeping bags, surgical equipment, medicine, food, and items for disinfection and water purification.
The leaders of the Czech governing coalition have agreed on setting up a commission to investigate the privatization of the petrochemicals firm Unipetrol, going back to the company's founding in the early 90s. The ruling Social Democrats are suspected of having taken bribes and sold Unipetrol to PKN Orlen of Poland under highly unfavourable conditions for the Czech Republic. A Polish Parliamentary commission investigating the circumstances of the privatization recently suggested that the Czech Republic had lost billions of crowns in the process.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has stated he does not expect any change in good Czech-German relations under Angela Merkel, Germany's new incoming chancellor. Mr Paroubek described Mrs Merkel as a very "realistic" politician. Continuity in Czech-German foreign policy under Germany's new grand coalition could be expected, he said, also because the Social Democrats (SPD) were expected to fill the foreign ministry post.
Union leaders say they are planning extensive demonstrations in Prague in support of a new Labour Code draft submitted by the Social Democrats, promising significant changes to the labour laws. Union leaders say they will try to drum up support of at least 25,000 in favour of the bill, which has drawn criticism from businesses and entrepreneurs. Areas of contention include greater jurisdiction by unions, and stricter conditions for laying-off employees. The ruling Social Democrats agreed on the bill at the government level despite objection by the Christian Democrats. The draft has yet to be passed in Parliament.
In related news, the Czech Army has said it is prepared to send humanitarian aid to areas stricken by recent natural disasters, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India hit by a devastating earthquake in Central and South Asia, and Guatemala in Central America, hit by Hurricane Stan and resulting mudslides. According to the Army, materials sent to individual countries could include tents and blankets, depending on the situation. Funds for Guatemala are also likely to be set aside by the Czech Republic - but a concrete decision has not been taken yet.