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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunday is expected to be cloudy with a daytime temperature of -1 degree Celsius.
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