The Czech communist party is holding its annual conference in Ceske Budejovice this weekend with several senior party posts up for re-election. Miroslav Grebenicek, who is expected to retain his leadership of the party, said in his opening address on Saturday that the party was ready to enter government and "tame" what he described as "rampant capitalism" in the Czech Republic. He said present day capitalism had been "unleashed from the chain of the welfare state" and slammed the Social Democrats for allegedly deserting their election manifesto. Although the Communists are currently the second strongest party on the Czech political scene no other party is willing to cooperate with them in government.
The culture minister on Iraq's governing council, Mufid al-Jazairi, has asked the Czech culture minister, Pavel Dostal, to send Czech experts to Iraq to help repair damage done to cultural artefacts during the war and during the previous regime. Mr al-Jazairi also held talks in Prague on Friday with Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who has just been released from hospital after injuring his neck in a car crash.
Vaclav Havel has had to cancel his appearance at the opening night of a production of his play Pokuseni, or Temptation, at Prague's Estates Theatre; the former president is suffering from a lung inflammation, the latest bout of a bronchial illness which has been afflicting him for several years. Seven years ago Mr Havel, formerly a heavy smoker, had part of his right lung removed because of cancer.
Up to 14 of the 16 football clubs in the Czech first division have had some involvement with bribery, a police source told Friday's edition of the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes. In the last two weeks, five referees and a senior official from Synot football club have been arrested on charges of match-fixing, in what is being described as the biggest scandal in the history of Czech football. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Czech football association, Jan Obst, said on Thursday he expected police to charge five to seven more people, most of them referees. Police are currently investigating every Czech league game played this season.
A 29-year-old man has been taken to hospital with severe burns after setting himself on fire in the west Bohemian town of Pilsen, police said on Friday. There have been several cases of self-immolation in the Czech Republic since a young man burnt himself to death on Prague's Wenceslas Square in March last year.
The human rights group Amnesty International has issued a report in which it criticises the Czech Republic for insufficient control of arms exports. It said weapons produced in the Czech Republic were sold to states such as Yemen and Sri Lanka with a history of diverting arms to other countries. For its part, the Czech Ministry of Defence said Amnesty International had not put forward a reasonable alternative. A spokesman said the organisation's only suggestion was to cease selling weapons altogether, which was "unrealistic". Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a statement on Friday saying it had not authorised any arms exports which contravened European Union regulations.
On Thursday the Czech Senate approved a government bill aimed at both lowering unemployment numbers but also improving benefits for those unable to find long-term work. On the one hand the bill, which was approved by 38 out of 70 senators present, will make it difficult for recipients to receive benefits if they refuse, for example, re-qualification training or a medical exam to which they had previously agreed. At the same time, under the new bill, those on unemployment will be allowed to earn up to half the minimum wage without losing unemployment benefits.
In related news: on Thursday the Chamber of Deputies also approved legislation enabling women to give birth in full anonymity, which supporters hope will reduce the number of abortions in the country. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the medical records of women requesting anonymity could be accessed only under a court order; also, their name would not appear on their child's birth certificate. The overall aim of the bill is to deter women pregnant with an unwanted child, from seeking abortions or even abandoning or murdering the child. Every year the Czech Republic sees several cases of newborns, found either abandoned or dead.
The Czech government has approved a convergence programme of gradual cuts in public budget deficits and fiscal policy consolidation. The programme is based on a strategy of joining the Euro zone at the end of the decade. The government should submit the programme to the European Commission by mid-May. The Finance Ministry said the programme was a precondition for drawing money from the EU Cohesion Fund.
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