The Czech minister for minorities and human rights, Michael Kocáb, is planning to raise the issue of human rights in China at an EU-China summit to be held in Prague during the Czech presidency of the European Union. Mr Kocáb said that while Czech politicians had consistently criticized China for its poor human rights record in the past, the Czech Republic would now be speaking on behalf of the whole European Union. Michael Kocáb, who took office last month within a broader cabinet re-shuffle, also pointed out that enhanced trade between the EU and China might help alleviate the effects of the current financial crisis.
The opposition Social Democrats want a vote on the Lisbon treaty when the lower house of Parliament convenes for its next session on Tuesday. The lower house debated the reform document in December but the session was adjourned until February 3. The Social Democrats are also considering pushing for a referendum on the treaty. The party’s leader Jiří Paroubek hopes that such a move would find favour with some rebel members of the governing Civic Democrats who would help him bring down the government in a vote of no-confidence. The referendum would take place simultaneously with early elections, later this year. Mr Paroubek said he was confident Czechs would approve the Lisbon treaty if they were given a chance to vote on it. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Monday that he would like Parliament to ratify the treaty by the end of February. The Czech Republic, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, is the only member of the 27-member bloc not to have voted on the EU’s reform treaty.
Patients in region-owned hospitals and other health care facilities no longer have to pay health fees. As of Monday, the regional governments, formed by the opposition Social Democrats following their landslide victory in October’s regional elections, will cover the cost of the fees for patients. The health fees for a visit to the doctor, emergency treatment and drug prescriptions were introduced by the centre-right government of PM Mirek Topolánek at the beginning of last year within a broader health care reform plan. They have caused tremendous controversy. The opposition managed to cancel the fees in Parliament’s lower house in December. The Senate has now come up with an amendment to the law which respects some of the objections to the fees from within the ruling coalition.
The European Newspaper Publishers’ Association condemned a proposed amendment to the Czech criminal law which would ban the publishing of phone calls intercepted by the police. The Association says freedom of the press in the country would be threatened if the amendment enters into force. The condemnation comes a week after the same bill was criticized by Reporters Without Borders. The amendment, which introduces prison sentences of up to five years for anyone who publishes such interceptions, was approved by the lower house last year but was rejected by the Senate, sending it back to the Chamber of Deputies which is expected to vote on it again this month.
The Czech Chamber of Commerce says the country’s economy is going to plunge into recession this year. The predicted downfall will be caused by a drop in contracts, long breaks in production and a restricted working week which many firms have been forced to introduce. The Chamber says the Czech economy was heavily hit by the global crisis, with November’s industrial production showing the steepest drop of all EU member countries. According to the analysis, another 30,000 jobs will be cut in January alone, making the unemployment rate jump over 7 percent by the end of 2009.
The security situation in Mladá Boleslav, a town north-east of Prague where the Škoda carmaker is based, has improved after most of the factory’s foreign staff left, a municipal police spokesperson said on Monday. In January, the municipal police was called to 25 percent cases less than in the same month of the previous year. Last year, Škoda employed some 7,000 foreign labourers while now only 400 of them remain in town.
The Czech government has agreed that it will buy a leaking dangerous waste dump in Moravia for 23 million crowns, or just over a million US dollars, in order to have it fixed, the Czech news agency ČTK reported on Monday. The dump site, established in the community of Pozďátky in western Moravia in 1994, contains thousands of tons of chemicals which began leaking into a nearby stream; the government has been trying to buy the site for more than six years. The environment ministry said immediate emergency measures would cost another 17 million crowns.
DNA testing revealed on Monday that two human arms, found by the German police, belonged to a torso discovered by police last week in western Bohemia. The two countries’ police forces started cooperating on the case after a hunter found a human torso without the head, arms and legs in a forest near Všeruby in western Bohemia, close to the border with Germany, last week. The police disclosed that the dead person was a 35-year-old German man.
The price of apartments in Prague dropped by 1.7 percent in the last quarter of 2008, for the first time since 2005, the Czech Statistical Office said on Monday. The gradual rise in apartment prices over the last three years has come to a halt as well.
The start of the week will see cloudy skies with rain and snow in places, together with strong winds. Highest day temperatures should range between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius.