Czech lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to keep in place a law banning communist-era officials and members of the secret police from public service jobs. The Communist Party's proposal to scrap the so-called 'screening' law was rejected in Parliament's lower house on Wednesday. The proposal split the country's ruling Social Democratic Party, some of whose members lined up with the Communists. The main opposition party, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, as well as the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, all voted against. Questions over the screening bill first came to the fore last month when the Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, himself suggested the bill should be dropped, saying it had already served its purpose. Outcry by coalition members and the threat of a rift within the government, however, forced the prime minister to backtrack.
The head of the largest state-owned health insurance company, Jirina Musilkova, has told Parliament the firm, known as the VZP, has been losing clients since being put under forced administration in November. By law, during forced administration clients are allowed to leave insurers on the 1st of every month. On Tuesday Mrs Musilkova said almost 9,000 clients had left the firm since mid-November, turning around the firm's first positive client numbers in years. But, the head of the Union of Health Insurance Companies, Jaromir Gajdacek, responded on Tuesday by saying the numbers were not dramatic - representing only 10 to 15 percent rise in the number than left the VZP during the same period last year.
The insurer has been under forced administration since November 10th. Its head, Jirina Musilkova, has promised to step down on January 1st.
A new anti-discrimination bill amendment was passed on Wednesday promising more protection for Czech citizens. The bill is said to outline fair treatment regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, or age, and should offer additional protection against discrimination in cases of language, political persuasion, property-ownership, and family status. The amendment brings the Czech Republic's antidiscrimination legislation level with EU norms. If passed by the senate and signed by the president, it should take effect on July 1st, 2006.
Four police officers who beat up a man at the CzechTek music festival in July will not face punishment, Pravo newspaper reports. The daily writes an Interior Ministry investigation, launched after a video tape was released showing the officers kicking and beating a defenceless young man, concluded that no law was broken. The police in question have not been suspended from office but have been transferred to different posts.
The CzechTek party in West Bohemia, which was attended by some 5,000 visitors, made headlines for several weeks in the summer. Following complaints from landowners of neighbouring property, around 1,000 police in riot gear forcibly broke up the techno party, using tear gas and water cannons leading to minor injuries on both sides.
Some 250 Czech university students have appealed to President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek to raise the question of human rights abuses during an upcoming visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jaibao. On Wednesday the students left copies of an open letter at government headquarters and at Prague Castle. An organiser told journalists that students were concerned human rights issues would not get room in discussions focusing mostly on trade, but a government spokesman assured students present, that the prime minister would raise the issue. Along with the appeal, Czech students are asking that the Czech head of state, as well as the premier, push China on opening an inquiry into the 1989 massacre on Tiananmen Square.
A new poll released by the Factum agency has suggested that if elections were held today they would see a dead-heat between the opposition, right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the ruling Social Democratic Party. According to the poll, the Social Democrats would now get around 28 percent of the vote, with the Civic Democrats garnering 30 percent. Under current conditions only two other parties would make it into Parliament: the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats. The prognosis, says Factum, indicates that if elections were held now the Social Democrats could play a role in two possible majority governments: ruling either together with the Communist Party or joining a so-called "grand coalition" with the Civic Democrats.
Weather in the second half of the week is expected to be mostly cloudy with some sunny intervals. Daytime temperatures are expected to hover at around 1 degree Celsius.
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