The new health minister Social Democrat Jozef Kubinyi took up his post on Thursday. Mr Kubinyi replaced Marie Souckova who was recalled earlier this week for failing to produce a sound reform plan for the health sector. Minister Kubinyi is expected to start work on a new reform plan immediately. During the appointment of Mr. Kubinyi at Prague Castle on Wednesday, President Vaclav Klaus described the health ministry as an ailing institution, which has seen the highest number of ministers come and go, and whose state of health is even worse than that of the health sector it is supposed to reform.
About 3,500 policemen from Prague, reinforced by their colleagues from other regions, will serve during the World Ice Hockey Championships in Prague on April 24- May 9, Prague police said on Thursday. Police officers from outside the capital will probably arrive in Prague at the beginning of May to help secure public order during the hockey championships. Police say the period between April 24 and May 9 will be very demanding for police forces since, apart from the World Ice Hockey Championships, a number of other events will be held in Prague, in connection with the Czech Republic's accession to the EU on May 1, Labour Day and the anniversary of the end of World War Two on May 8.
President Vaclav Klaus has begun an eleven-day state visit to China. This is the first ever visit by a Czech head of state to Beijing since the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Mr Klaus is accompanied by a large delegation of Czech businessmen. The trip is expected to consolidate trade between the two countries, which has been booming in recent years. A number of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and People in Need, have called on President Klaus to bring up the issue of China's poor human-rights record during his visit.
There has been no news in the search for the three Czech journalists who were kidnapped in Iraq on Sunday morning. According to the Czech Foreign Ministry the kidnappers have not contacted the Czech side yet, and Czech diplomacy has not succeeded in establishing any direct contact with them either. The purpose of the kidnap is not yet known and there is no direct evidence that the three Czechs are still alive. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar said that the ministry believed the Czechs had not been abducted by the same group which on Wednesday murdered an Italian national. Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal, his cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka were abducted by as yet unidentified armed men when travelling from Baghdad to Jordan's Amman on Sunday morning.
Prague police have said that the crime rate in Prague has fallen in the first three months of this year by almost four percent compared to the same period last year but no improvement has been achieved in the clearance of crimes. While twenty-five percent of crimes were solved in the first quarter of last year, it was almost eight percent fewer this year. About 24,000 crimes were committed in Prague in the first quarter of this year, about 4,000 of which have been solved. Compared to 2003, the number of violent crimes has increased. The number of robberies has also grown and two more murders were committed compared to the same period last year. The number of robberies of banks and post offices has grown seven times, while the number of thefts has fallen.
The Cabinet on Wednesday also approved a bill on mandatory alcohol stamping, which is part of a broader effort to fight corruption and the "grey economy". The bill should help prevent tax evasion and generate more funds for the state budget. If approved by parliament the law would come into effect as of January 1st, 2005.
In view of recent developments, the Czech Foreign Ministry has advised Czech citizens to leave Iraq. Those who cannot leave the country have been advised to exercise extreme caution, to stay in their hotels and avoid travelling, as far as possible. The Czech humanitarian organisation, People in Need, has begun pulling its workers out of Iraq.
The Cabinet has approved an amendment to the energy law, setting a framework for the liberalization of the gas and electricity markets. The first stage of liberalization of the gas market is to come in January next year and should concern large buyers. The gas market should be fully liberalized by the end of 2006. The electricity market has already gone through three stages of liberalization, with full liberalization also scheduled for 2006. The law aims at raising competition on the energy market and should strengthen the position of consumers by enabling them to pick a supplier.
Behind the scenes negotiations continue to try to secure the release of three Czech journalists who were abducted by rebel insurgents in Iraq on Sunday. According to Iraqi minister Mufid Jazairi, the abduction of the three Czechs was a politically motivated action. Minister Jazairi, who is trying to negotiate their release, said his sources had assured him that the journalists had not been harmed. Although the Iraqi official was fairly optimistic on Tuesday predicting an early release, on Wednesday he admitted that the situation was very sensitive and was complicated by the taking of further hostages -French and German nationals -in the past 24 hours. Iraqi rebel groups are now holding around 40 foreign hostages in an attempt to destabilize the US-led coalition.
The Prague High Court has confirmed an eight year sentence for former foreign ministry official Karel Srba, found guilty of plotting to murder a journalist. Mr Srba was found guilty of planning to kill Sabina Slonkova, a top investigative reporter for the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. The man hired to do the murder went to the police before the plan could be carried out.
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