Union leaders say the reforms - which include plans to cut sickness benefit and pensions - will hit the poorest members of society. The government insists the reforms must go ahead, saying budget cuts are necessary to prepare the Czech economy for eventual adoption of the single European currency. Analysts, on the other hand, say they don't go far enough towards meeting the Maastrict criteria for adopting the euro. The Czech Republic joins the European Union in May 2004.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has said the government is willing to make minor changes to the planned public finance reforms, but will not weaken them. His comments came one day after around 15,000 trade union members demonstrated in the centre of Prague against the planned reforms. Mr Spidla was speaking to reporters after a meeting on Sunday between the leaders of the three coalition parties in the centre-left cabinet. Mr Spidla has said repeatedly that he will not be blackmailed by the trade unions. However in an apparent softening of tone, he said the government would listen to proposals put forward by "its social partners" before submitting the final draft to parliament.
A bus driver has been killed and 12 people seriously injured in a crash near the town of Svitavy. The accident happened at around 11.30 on Saturday night after a bus carrying 45 passengers collided with a railway viaduct. The driver was killed instantly, 24 passengers were taken to hospital, 12 of them with serious injuries. The remaining passengers - believed to be pensioners returning from a day trip - escaped with minor cuts and bruises. Police have launched an investigation to establish the cause of the crash. There have been a number of serious road accidents involving buses in recent years, the worst of which left seventeen passengers dead.
Football now and the Czech international Milan Baros has broken his ankle during an English Premiere League match. Baros, who plays for Liverpool, was taken off in the fourth minute of Saturday's game against Blackburn Rovers. Baros, 21, is one of the most important members of the Czech national team. He scored the final goal in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over the Netherlands, which saw the Czech Republic qualify for the 2004 European Championships.
Thousands of trade union members have gathered in Prague to demonstrate against the government's planned public finance reforms. At least 15,000 people from across the country gathered on Prague's Letna plain on Saturday morning, before marching towards the city centre. Demonstrators carrying banners and shouting slogans marched past the government headquarters. Union leaders say the reforms - which include plans to cut sickness benefit and pensions - will hit the poorest members of society. The government insists the reforms must go ahead, saying budget cuts are necessary to prepare the Czech economy for eventual adoption of the euro.
President Vaclav Klaus has sent his condolences to the parents of a baby girl who was mauled to death by the family's dog on Friday. At the same time President Klaus called for the strictest punishment to be applied to dog owners who neglect their animals. The 18-month-year-old girl was killed on Friday as she was playing in the backyard of her house in the village of Kovansko, near Nymburk. The dog - a cross between a Labrador and a Doberman - has been taken away by the authorities. Police say they have no idea why the animal attacked the girl, the couple's only child. The parents are now receiving psychological counselling.
As the main opposition Civic Democrats continue preparations for a vote of confidence over the reforms, a rebel MP from the ruling coalition has said he believes the government will fall before the end of the year. Quoted in a newspaper interview, Social Democrat MP Josef Hojdar said he had still not decided whether or not to vote against the government in the confidence vote. The centre-left coalition has a majority of just one seat in the lower house, and Mr Hojdar's vote could be crucial to the government's survival. Mr Hojdar recently resigned from the Social Democrats' deputies' group, although he remains a member of the party.
The European Union has urged the Czech Republic to improve food safety standards, warning that hundreds of food companies could be forced out of business when the country joins the EU next year. The warning came from a delegation headed by EU health Commissioner David Byrne who found that many Czech food companies were still lagging behind the strict EU requirements. The EU delegation also urged the Czech government to enact legislation that would bring food regulations up to EU levels in areas of veterinary care, meat and dairy processing plants.
The Communist party leadership has advised its deputies not to support the government in a vote of confidence, which the leading opposition party of Civic Democrats is planning to instigate. The governing coalition has a razor thin 101 voice majority in Parliament while the two opposition parties, the Civic Democrats and the Communists command 99 votes altogether. As a result, the coalition government has been calling its deputies to order demanding 100% attendance at all parliament sessions. The vote on next year's budget is expected to be critical and the government has been working hard to ensure the support of all its deputies.
The two largest Czech trade union groups have announced they will hold a
public rally on Saturday, September 13 in Prague in protest against the
government's proposed public finance reforms. The Czech and Moravian
Confederation of Trade Unions and the Association of Independent Trade
Unions agree that the current state of the public finance is unsustainable
and needs a thorough reform, but they find the government's draft plans
The reforms include tax hikes, pension, health, and social system reforms, as well as other austerity measures, including massive lay-offs in the state administration. The Unions claim that the reforms will in effect primarily hurt employees, families with young children, and pensioners. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla admitted that minor changes were possible but he does not want make any substantial changes to the draft.
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