Disappointment prevailed on Wednesday in the North Moravian village of Horni Benesov where Senator John Kerry's grandfather was born, as the Democratic candidate failed in his bid to become the next US president. One hundred years after his Jewish grandfather, Fritz Kohn, changed his name, converted to Catholicism and left central Europe to seek his fortune in America, many of Horni Benesov's 2,400 inhabitants had been hoping that a Kerry victory would bring prosperity to the once thriving mining town, now struck with high unemployment.
The number of tourists visiting the Czech Republic this year is expected to be up to 16 percent higher compared to last year, according to the government agency CzechTourism. By the end of the year, as many as 5.9 million tourists are expected to have stayed at hotels and other accommodation facilities in the Czech Republic. CzechTourism estimates that a further 2 million foreigners will have stayed with friends and relatives, not making it into the statistics. According to private agency Mag Consulting, the increase in the number of tourists in 2004 is estimated at only 8-9 percent, and the total of tourists using accommodation to 5.5 million.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus has welcomed the re-election of George W. Bush as President of the United States. The Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said the victory of George W. Bush in Tuesday's U.S. presidential elections was good news for the Czech Republic. Shortly after Senator John Kerry conceded the election, Foreign Minister Svoboda said that the majority of American voters had supported Mr Bush in such key issues as the fight against terrorism and involvement in Iraq, a line advocated also by Czech diplomacy. According to both politicians, President Bush's re-election means welcome continuity in U.S. policies.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister Stanislav Gross admitted that the Health Minister Milada Emmerova did not act in a standard way when she sent letters to regional governors to warn them of a possible bio-chemical attack on hospitals. Mr Gross however dismissed the calls by some governors from the opposition Civic Democrats for her to resign, but said that in the future it would be good if a different procedure were followed. Minister Emmerova herself denied making any mistakes in the case and accused the opposition governors of bullying her.
The power giant CEZ, which employs some 7,000 people, is planning a big lay off in the coming months. CEZ spokesman said there would be large-scale changes ahead but he would not disclose how many people would be laid off, saying only that it would be "thousands rather than hundreds". The conglomerate is to be transformed into a holding company, comprising the parent and ten subsidiaries. The aim is to make the company's structure clearer, its management more effective and its services better, the spokesman said.
The Health Minister Milada Emmerova has warned local administrations to heighten security measures in and around hospitals in view of a possible bio-chemical attack. According to the CTK news agency, the minister has contacted all regional governors, asking them to take preventative and security measures and to pay particular attention to hospitals in their region. The country's intelligence service has confirmed that it is investigating a certain threat to hospitals.
An audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown that Czech ministries often fail to offer guarantees that money from EU funds would not go astray, according to the economics daily Hospodarske Noviny. The failing complicates the process of drawing on EU funds and thus damages the country's interests. Although the Finance Ministry ordered the audit on the understanding that its outcome would be made public, it is now keeping the results secret. An unnamed ministry source told the paper that the audit would not be made public until after the elections and after the shortcomings had been removed.
There is growing pressure on judges to make public the names of juvenile killers. There have been a series of murders committed by juveniles in recent months but the police and judges have refused to disclose their names since underage delinquents are protected by law. Justice Minister Pavel Nemec has said in response to growing public concern that the law actually allows judges to make an exception in cases of serious crimes - murder or assault - and that he would encourage them to do so.
During a presentation of her ten-point health care plan on Monday, Health Minister Milada Emmerova said her top priority is to guarantee all citizens health care that is affordable, in their locality, and in time. The new concept was presented to doctors and journalists in the northern Moravian town of Decin. Mrs. Emmerova also rejected claims of some doctors that the health ministry plans to nationalise private surgeries. The health minister hopes to achieve these goals with the help of a nationwide network of hospitals and more effective financing. Doctors, however, are sceptical, saying the new concept is too general and will not help tackle the problem areas in the health sector.
A Czech organisation that has been fighting drug addiction for the past thirteen years has been promised eight million Czech crowns (some 100,000 Euros) from the EU budget to reduce drug addiction in Afghanistan. In the next two years and in cooperation with local partner organisations, the Podane Ruce (Helping Hand) organisation hopes to make a significant change with its "Breaking the Cycle" project. An estimated 30% of Afghanistan's population is addicted to opium. Experts believe that 80% of the world's heroin is produced in Afghanistan. There is currently only one hospital with 60 beds in the capital city of Kabul that is available to treat the country's drug addicts.
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