The Social Democrats and their Slovak counterparts signed a cooperation agreement on Sunday in which they pledge to help each other ahead of general elections next year in their respective countries. The Slovak opposition party Smer, headed by Robert Fico, wants to highlight the successes of the Czech centre-left party as a contrast to what it deems the shortcoming of Slovak reforms put in place by the centre-right coalition of Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. Czech Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek said Czech and Slovak politicians may appear at joint rallies in the future.
The Senate will convene a public hearing about proposed changes to the labour law on Tuesday. A major point of contention relates to severance pay. Workers unions want to keep in place a provision requiring an employer to give three months notice and pay two months' severance pay. Employers' associations say the requirement is too costly and leads to an inflexible workforce.
Several dozen far-right extremists gathered in a Kutna Hora restaurant on Saturday night for a birthday celebration. Eighty-eight police were dispatched to the scene after a private citizen in the central Bohemian town called in a complaint. One skinhead wearing a tee-shirt promoting a banned neo-Nazi music group was taken into custody. Police have been criticised in recent years for allowing neo-Nazi concerts to take place undisturbed. Recently, two police officials in southern Bohemia were demoted for failing to intervene at a similar gathering of neo-Nazis.
A new study by the Karolinska Institute of Sweden has found that cancer patients in the Czech Republic are among the least likely in Europe to be treated with the latest medicines. The report, which is due to be presented to the European Parliament this week, also singled out Hungary, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom in this regard. The Stockholm-based institute said shortages in new cancer drugs are generally caused by tight financial controls in countries like the Czech Republic and by delays in approving medicines.
A freight train driver died on Friday shortly before midnight when he crashed into parked train outside the Zelenice na Mostecku railway station near the town of Most, in northern Bohemia. Thirteen carriages and one engine derailed in the crash and local rail traffic was suspended on Saturday. The driver, who worked for the private company Unipetrol Doprava, failed to notice a stop signal, a Czech Railways spokesman said.
The central committee of the main opposition Communist Party accepted the resignation of its long-time leader Miroslav Grebenicek on Saturday and elected deputy chairman Vojtech Filip as his replacement, by a wide margin. Grebenicek had led the largely unreformed Communist Party since 1993. He had announced his intention to step down several weeks ago, citing his displeasure with the centrist direction he believed the party programme had taken. Vojtech Filip, the newly named Communist Party leader, is seen as a pragmatic politician whose primary goal is to end the party's isolation in parliament. He received 63 votes, more than three times that of his only rival, who Vaclav Exner, ho got 20 votes. Outgoing 'hard-line' chairman Grebenicek left the central committee meeting before his successor was named and refused to comment on the elections to journalists waiting outside Communist Party headquarters.
In other political news, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has pledged to help Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and his party, the Social Democrats, ahead of the June 2006 elections. Paroubek told journalists after dining with Schroeder in Prague on Friday evening that his German counterpart vowed to dispatch several members of his election team to Prague before Christmas to help the centre-left Social Democrats prepare election tactics. Schroeder was in Prague for a brief unofficial visit late Friday and had dinner with Paroubek at a luxurious French restaurant in the city centre.
Former prime minister Stanislav Gross, who resigned as chairman of the centre-left Social Democratic party on Friday, will begin work as a trainee lawyer in a private firm starting this Monday. At age 35, Gross was the youngest prime minister in Europe until he stepped down this April. He had been under heavy pressure to resign following questions about his personal finances, including how he paid for his luxury Prague apartment. In an interview for the Pravo daily published on Saturday, Gross said that in private practice, he would avoid legal cases relating to serious financial or organised crime. He said that as a former interior minister, he considered it "unethical" to handle such cases.
Some 200 historical chairs from two imperial chateaus in Vienna will be returned to Austria, 60 years after the end of World War II, said Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. Austria had been seeking the return of the valuable chairs for some years, after hiding them in a south Moravian chateau for safekeeping during the war.
Almost all of the banknotes found in a raid of the home of fugitive businessman Radovan Krejcir were forgeries, a Czech National Bank spokesperson said on Friday. Police had reported finding billions of crowns in various currencies, but it turns out less than 10 million crowns worth of the notes were genuine. Mr Krejcir is wanted on charges of fraud and conspiracy to murder; he fled the Czech Republic in June and is now in the Seychelles, where he has citizenship.
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