The Czech government has approved Milos Kuzvart, a former environment minister and serving MP for the Social Democrats, to become the Czech Republic's first representative to the European Commission. The decision to put forward Mr Kuzvart had been widely expected despite objections within the two junior government parties, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. On Wednesday government spokeswoman Anna Veverkova told the Czech news agency CTK the decision to appoint Mr Kuzvart had not been unanimous, with ministers from the junior parties abstaining on the decision. In recent weeks junior party members had made it clear that they did not agree with Mr Kuzvart's nomination, saying they would have preferred a candidate with more international experience. Still, a spokesman for Romano Prodi, the head of the European Commission, has already welcomed Mr Kuzvart's nomination as an excellent choice.
Also on Wednesday the cabinet met to discuss proposed pension reforms, but came away with only a general agreement on goals preceding further negotiations with the leaders of the three coalition parties. So far agreement has been reached on the necessity of making the pension system more just and effective, as well as financially sustainable. Originally on Wednesday the government had planned to discuss the transition to the so-called 'Swedish model' for pension reforms - that discussion has been postponed for the time being.
The government also approved the outline for a new amendment on sick-leave benefits on Wednesday, with Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Zdenek Skromach putting forth the proposal that sick-leave benefits be paid only for work days missed. The bill also aims to reduce sick-leave pay to just 35 percent of one's regular salary for the first three days away from the workplace. On additional days patients would receive up to 70 percent of their regular pay. The plan, meanwhile, has met with resistance from both doctors and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are upset the bill will count on employers to cover the first fourteen days of benefits, while doctors have expressed dissatisfaction with a planned fine aimed at discouraging medical professionals from treating malingerers lightly.
A new poll, conducted by the CVVM agency, has shown that the popularity of the current government has continued to fall. According to results 66 percent of those surveyed rated the government negatively, while just 27 percent said they were satisfied. A year ago Czechs rated the cabinet more highly - 48 percent saying then they approved of the government's work. Although the most recent polls show the cabinet with unfavourable numbers the two opposition parties the Civic Democrats, as well as the Communists, fared only slightly better. The positive response in the poll there was just 31 percent.
A court in the Czech Republic's second-largest city of Brno has cleared local entrepreneur Petr Olsan of 'propagating fascism' in a case that first came to light in 1999, was postponed, and finally reopened in 2002. Mr Olsan had been charged because the army store he ran in Brno, sold military items that included patches and pins bearing the Nazi swastika. Mr Olsan, a member of a historic fan club denied all along he had anything to do with the neo-Nazi movement, saying he was simply a history buff. In 2002 police confiscated one-third of the items in his shop, which has since been closed. Had Mr Olsan been found guilty of the charges he would have faced up to five years in prison.
Police are searching for a 15-year-old American national from the town of Zelec, near Prostejov, east Moravia, who left her 9th grade class on Monday morning but failed to return home. Last contact with 15-year-old Agnes Knapova and her family took place on Monday through a mobile phone text message - the girl has not been in touch since. Police have reason to believe the teenager may have run away after failing to pass high school enrolment exams. Agnes Knapova, who may be going under the false name of Alice Studena, has been described as wearing a blue corduroy jacket, blue jeans, and yellow 'Gladiator' boots. She is described as having long tinted light brown hair and blue eyes, and she also wears braces. She is medium height at 1 metre 66 centimetres tall. Anyone in the Czech Republic with any information on the missing girl is requested to call the Czech Republic's emergency number 158.
Thursday is expected to see light showers throughout the day with daytime temperatures not exceeding 13 degrees Celsius.
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