The Czech Republic has managed to achieve public hygiene standards equal to those of the European Union in just two years, according to the country's chief public health officer Michal Vit. In two years, we have done what the Netherlands did in seven, Mr. Vit told journalists in Prague on Wednesday. The process involved the approval of new legislation and new regulations introduced at shops, eateries and catering services across the country. It also entailed better consumer protection and the introduction of a central information system for nutrition hygiene, drinking water safety and infectious diseases, among other things.
A ten year old boy has had to undergo surgery after being badly mauled by a Shepard dog. The child was rushed to hospital with severe face injuries after the dog, which belonged to his grandmother attacked him in the family home. It is not clear what led to the attack, but family members say it is possible that the boy touched the dog's injured eye, provoking the onslaught. The dog, which the boy had known all his life and grown up with, is now under observation but is showing no signs of aggression.
The government on Wednesday also rejected a Senate bill that would introduce tuition fees at Czech state universities. The bill would transform universities into incorporated companies that provide education and applied research. They would also be freed of paying revenue taxes. The bill was drafted and approved by the Senate in response to growing dissatisfaction on the part of teachers and students regarding poor financing of universities. The strongest party in government, the Social Democrats, is strictly against the idea of tuition fees on the grounds that they would limit access to higher education for socially weaker students. The bill will now go to the Lower House.
A judge who was to decide whether to re-open the case against the country's most notorious criminal Jiri Kajinek has postponed the hearing until September, because a key witness failed to show up. Kajinek is serving a life sentence for two murders, which he claims not to have committed. His lawyer now says she has fresh evidence which should help clear Kajinek of both crimes. The new evidence allegedly points to the fact that Kajinek may have been framed.
The outgoing government of Vladimir Spidla on Wednesday approved an outline of next year's state budget, including the revenues and expenditures of individual ministries, but failed to agree on the size of the public finances deficit. Work on finalizing the 2005 state budget proposal has thus been left to the new Cabinet. The approval of basic parameters should enable individual ministers to draft budget proposals for their respective ministries, which will also be handed over to their successors in Cabinet. The fact that the emerging cabinet is a continuation of the three-party governing coalition should enable a fairly smooth transition.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has written to author J.K. Rowling of 'Harry Potter' fame, responding to her criticisms of the use of caged and netted beds in Czech institutions. Earlier this month, the best-selling author of children's books had characterised the use of the beds as an appalling and cruel practice. Last week, Health Minister Jozef Kubinyi banned the use of caged beds and ordered the use of netted beds to be phased out this year. In Mr Spidla's letter, he defended Czech practices and noted that the two types of beds were used only for short periods of time, when mentally ill or disabled people were in an agitated state and needed to be restrained from harming themselves or other patients. For his part, President Vaclav Klaus has called the ban a "cheap gesture" that does nothing to address problems confronting Czech hospitals and social institutions.
Czech Prime Minister-designate Stanislav Gross vowed on Tuesday to act quickly to form a new government, after leaders from the three parties that make up the current governing coalition agreed to again cooperate. The leftist Social Democrats, of which Mr Gross is party chairman, the centrist Christian Democrats and rightist Freedom Union are looking to form a coalition similar to that of outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Mr Gross told reporters that Tuesday's agreement paved the way for the new-old coalition to write a government manifesto, which would guide it up to a general election in 2006. Coalition leaders are due to discuss the manifesto on Friday. State budgets, changes to tax laws, household rent deregulation and foreign policy are among key items the coalition is looking to reach agreement on.
The new Austrian President Heinz Fischer said at his first press conference since taking office that he would not demand concessions from Prague on controversial issues which have burdened the countries' relations in the past, such as the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia or the controversial Benes decrees on the grounds of which 2.5 million Sudeten Germans were expelled from post war Czechoslovakia. The Austrian President who is to visit the Czech Republic on August 25th, said he would come with goodwill and welcome an open dialogue on all sensitive issues.
The leadership of the Christian Democratic Party on Monday approved the party's participation in a coalition government with the Social Democrats and the Freedom Union. Party deputies have started the process of pledging support for the emerging three party government. Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek said he could guarantee support from every single party deputy. The designated Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has requested a commitment in writing from all parties of the emerging coalition in order to make sure that the new government will have majority support in Parliament. Although all three parties have agreed to the measure, some deputies for the Social Democratic Party say they are not prepared to sign such a commitment until they know more about the future government's policy programme and the division of ministerial posts.
A new health care concept prepared by health minister Jozef Kubinyi has come under fire from his party colleagues. The concept is based on lower health insurance fees and greater financial participation of individual patients, such as paying for prescriptions, the cost of an ambulance, hospital fees and administrative fees at doctors' offices. The proposal has evoked strong criticism from members of the Social Democratic Party. Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach, a leading party figure, said it was in direct conflict with the basic principles of the Social Democrat's policy programme. The controversial concept will further decrease minister Kubinyi's chances of retaining his post.
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