After hours of heated debate, Czech MPs on Wednesday voted in favour of the government’s pension system. If eventually approved by both houses of the Czech Parliament and signed into law by the president, the reform will allow people to pay part of their contributions to private pension funds. When reaching the age of 35, people will be able to transfer 2 percent of their contributions from their state-run accounts to a private pension fund, provided they add another 2 percent from their own pockets. However, it will still be possible to rely entirely on the state-controlled pay-as-you-go system. The respective bills will now be debated in the lower house’s committees; the final vote is expected to take place in September.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday also supported a package of health reform bills which will radically change the system of health care. The planned overhaul includes the introduction of standard and above standard care for patients, higher fees for hospital stays and changes to the network of healthcare providers, insurers and emergency aid services. The changes are to be introduced gradually in a phased-out process. The bill will go to the respective committees of the lower house before a final vote on the reform package takes place in September.
The government’s health care and pension reforms have come under severe criticism from the opposition Social Democrats. Party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka said the health care reform was unacceptable as it would establish a two-tier system which would result in the socially weaker groups of the population getting cheaper, less suitable and less effective treatment. The party therefore plans to file a complaint against them at the Constitutional Court. Speaking on the pension reform, Mr Sobotka said it will only bring benefits to people who earn nearly double the average salary.
Monday’s arson attack against a Romany house in the central Bohemian town of Býchory was racially motivated, a police spokeswoman said on Wednesday. However, only one of the four suspects will face charges of a racially motivated attack and could land up to 12 years in prison. The prosecutor on Wednesday re-qualified the charges for the other three suspects who are now accused of less severe crime and face between six months and three years in jail.
The suspects were arrested shortly after the attack which took place in the central Bohemian town of Býchory in the early hours of Monday. The men allegedly threw a lit torch into a house inhabited by Romanies; no one was hurt in the incident. However, a similar attack in northern Moravia in 2009 gravely injured a two-year-old girl.
Former Czech president Václav Havel, who is 74, remains in poor health, his wife told the news website aha.cz on Wednesday. Mr Havel, who was hospitalized in March with a respiratory infection and recently underwent treatment in a medical spa, has not been able to leave the house. In his Prague home, Václav Havel is attended by doctors and nuns; Ms Havlová also said the former head of state has been unable to sleep. An assistant to Mr Havel said however his health had slightly improved over the past week, and he was now planning a trip to his beloved country house, Hrádeček.
The Czech-based, German owned car manufacturer Škoda Auto posted on Wednesday record sales in the first half of this year. The carmaker sold nearly 455,000 vehicles between January and July, which amounts to an annual increase of over 20 percent. Around one fourth of the vehicles were sold at the firm’s largest market in China, but Škoda board member Jurgen Stackmann said the company showed strong performance in all areas and regions. In the Czech Republic, Škoda sold just over 26,000 cars in the first six months of 2011, some 10 percent less than in the same period last year, achieving a 30 percent share of the market.
The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg cancelled on Wednesday a 17.55 million euro fine for the Czech petrochemical firm Unipetrol for allegedly taking part in a cartel. The court said that the European Commission, which in 2006 imposed the fine on Unipetrol and four other firms, did not provide enough evidence to justify the penalty. The commission argued the cartel, which was worked between 1996 and 2002, was set up by the firms Shell, Dow Chemical, Eni, Trade-Stomil and Unipetrol to fix the prices of synthetic rubber used in the production of tires and other products. The court also reduced fines for the other four companies allegedly involved in the rubber cartels with the exception of Shell whose fine of 160.88 million euro was upheld.
A Czech soldier sustained light injuries during an insurgent attack in the Logar province of Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Czech Army said. The attack occurred when a joint US, Czech and Afghan patrol returning to the Shank base came under fire at around 2 PM local time, a spokeswoman for the army’s general staff said. The 25-year-old Czech corporal was shot in the leg; he was treated on the spot and will be transferred to a military hospital in Kabul for further treatment. Wednesday’s attack was the second incident involving Czech troops in a week; last Wednesday, a Czech soldier was seriously wounded during an attack on a Czech army base in Vardak province.
Czech painter Zdeněk Sýkora died on Tuesday at the age of 91, the Czech news agency ČTK reported. Mr Sýkora, who pioneered the use of computers in art, was influenced by surrealism and cubism. In the 1960s, he turned to abstract compositions based on geometric shapes and their relations; in the middle of the decade, he began using computers in his work. His paintings are featured in a number of international galleries including Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MUMOK - Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna and Neues Museum in Nurnberg, Germany. Last year, Prague City Gallery held a major retrospective of Zdeněk Sýkora’s work; in 2003, he was awarded the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
An investigation is underway to ascertain the cause of an accident on Tuesday at the Karvina Mine in Moravia that killed a 45-year-old mine worker and left another seriously injured. The accident happened during drilling work 900 meters below ground. It is the third fatality at the mine this year.
Czechs are among Europe’s keenest users of Facebook and other social networks, according to a new survey by the firm Intel released on Wednesday. The survey, which was carried out in 11 European nations, found that 31 percent of Czechs check their mobile devises in the morning while still in bed, while another 37 percent do so during breakfast; both rates were well above average, a spokesman for the company said. Some 81 percent of Czechs commonly connect to the internet before coming to work.
Czech football champions Viktoria Plzeň beat Armenia’s Pyunik Yerevan 4:0 on Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League’s second qualifying round. Plzeň arrived in the Armenian capital will little knowledge of their opponents, but Pyunik put up no major resistance. Plzeň went ahead early in the game with a header by Milan Bakoš, and the Czechs were leading 3:0 at half time after Pavel Horvath and Milan Bakoš converted penalty kicks. Daniel Kolář then set the final score in the 73rd minute. The second leg is scheduled in Plzeň for July 19.
The next few days will be hot and mostly overcast with rain showers and occasional storms. Daytime highs will range between 29 and 33 degrees Celsius.