The leaders of the Czech governing coalition have agreed on setting up a commission to investigate the privatization of the petrochemicals firm Unipetrol, going back to the company's founding in the early 90s. The ruling Social Democrats are suspected of having taken bribes and sold Unipetrol to PKN Orlen of Poland under highly unfavourable conditions for the Czech Republic. A Polish Parliamentary commission investigating the circumstances of the privatization recently suggested that the Czech Republic had lost billions of crowns in the process.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has stated he does not expect any change in good Czech-German relations under Angela Merkel, Germany's new incoming chancellor. Mr Paroubek described Mrs Merkel as a very "realistic" politician. Continuity in Czech-German foreign policy under Germany's new grand coalition could be expected, he said, also because the Social Democrats (SPD) were expected to fill the foreign ministry post.
Private doctors, pharmacies and hospitals should start receiving overdue reimbursement payments from the largest Czech insurance company VZP within a week, according to Jan Jelinek the deputy chairman of the Private Doctors Association. The government recently earmarked 3.8 billion crowns in emergency aid to help stabilize the cash-flow problems in the health sector, but critics of the government say the problem cannot be resolved without far-reaching structural reforms. The money crisis in the health sector was brought to a head last Thursday when private physicians held a one day strike to protest the poor payment morale of insurance companies, particularly VZP.
Pakistan, which is dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, has taken up a Czech offer of humanitarian aid. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said a special plane carrying a fifteen-member medical team would be ready to leave the Czech Republic around mid-day on Wednesday. The doctors and nurses are expected to join one of the field hospitals already working in the region. The plane will be loaded with sleeping bags, surgical equipment, medicine, food, and items for disinfection and water purification.
The Czech Republic and Iraq have signed an agreement on a Czech donation
of military firearms as well as uniforms to be used by Iraqis in the
protection of significant cultural sites. The agreement, signed by the
Czech defence minister and the Iraqi ambassador to Prague, will see some
1,500 submachine guns, 50 machine guns, and 1,500 uniforms no longer in
use by the Czech Army, to be donated for Iraqi personnel to guard sites
have been subject to heavy looting and damages since the outbreak of war
in Iraq. The donated material is expected to reach Iraq in several weeks
in a transport delivery organised by NATO. The Iraqi government has
classified the donation as "humanitarian" rather than military.
In total the Czech government has put forward some 78 million US dollars in recent years towards the reconstruction of Iraq, funds used in humanitarian aid, the running of a Czech field hospital in Basra, and the training of Iraqi police.
Frantisek Veleta, the driver of a small truck involved in an accident
last year that killed ice hockey legend and national team coach Ivan
Hlinka, has been given a two-year suspended sentence. On Monday a
regional court found Mr Veleta guilty of not granting right of away,
leading to the collision. The driver has also been banned from getting
behind the wheel for five years. Mr Veleta's defence has appealed the
decision, and will be seeking a full acquittal.
The Czech national ice hockey coach Ivan Hlinka was 54 when he died. He is best remembered for leading the Czechs to Olympic Gold in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
On Monday security was increased at the Czech Republic's two nuclear
power stations, Dukovany and Temelin, after an anonymous caller warned
of an explosion at both plants. A spokesman for the Dukovany plant on
Monday said the caller contacted fire fighters on Sunday evening. But,
police searches at both plants failed to find any explosives or any
signs of tampering on site. Emergency staff meetings were called at
The nature of the extra security measures, meanwhile, has not been specified.
Union leaders say they are planning extensive demonstrations in Prague in support of a new Labour Code draft submitted by the Social Democrats, promising significant changes to the labour laws. Union leaders say they will try to drum up support of at least 25,000 in favour of the bill, which has drawn criticism from businesses and entrepreneurs. Areas of contention include greater jurisdiction by unions, and stricter conditions for laying-off employees. The ruling Social Democrats agreed on the bill at the government level despite objection by the Christian Democrats. The draft has yet to be passed in Parliament.
In related news, the Czech Army has said it is prepared to send humanitarian aid to areas stricken by recent natural disasters, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India hit by a devastating earthquake in Central and South Asia, and Guatemala in Central America, hit by Hurricane Stan and resulting mudslides. According to the Army, materials sent to individual countries could include tents and blankets, depending on the situation. Funds for Guatemala are also likely to be set aside by the Czech Republic - but a concrete decision has not been taken yet.
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