Jirina Musilkova, the head of the country's largest health insurance company, the VZP, has said she will step down on January 1st, 2006. Mrs Musilkova made the announcement on Friday, citing political pressure on her and co-workers as the reason for her decision. Both the prime minister and the health minister, David Rath, have strongly criticised Musilkova in recent weeks for alleged mismanagement, leading the VZP into billions of crowns of debt. Both had called for her resignation, and earlier this month the health minister brought the insurer under forced administration. Not all, however, have rated Mrs Musilkova negatively: on Saturday President Vaclav Klaus praised Musilkova's work, saying he hoped those involved would find the strength to thank the outgoing VZP head for 'many years of service'. Musilkova has headed the state-owned company for seven years.
Around 30,000 trade union members demonstrated in Prague on Saturday in support of new labour legislation proposed by the ruling Social Democrats. The amendment, passed in a first reading in the lower house, has been criticised by some experts as well as government coalition members and the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats. The smaller parties in government would like to curb the influence of trade unions set-out in the amendment, while trade unionists want no further changes. The draft has also said to contradict the Constitution in a number of areas, a charge denied by the unions.
Speaking in Brno on Saturday, the head of the Christian Democratic Party, Miroslav Kalousek, warned of growing influence by the Communist Party under current Prime Minister and Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek. Mr Kalousek alluded to the so-called "threat" during Saturday's party congress of the opposition Civic Democrats, who unveiled their election strategy ahead of next year's election. Both the Christian Democrats and the Civic Democrats have consistently ruled-out co-operation with the Communists, while the current prime minister has suggested the Communists could play a greater role in Czech politics in the future. Despite being one of the few unreformed leftist parties remaining in post-communist Europe, the Czech Communist Party enjoys relatively high voter support. Recent opinion polls place the party 3rd among voters, at around 13 percent.
The health minister has said he will begin looking for a candidate to
succeed Mrs Musilkova at the VZP, saying he would discuss suitable
candidates with the VZP's board of directors and members of different
political parties. He has also indicated that forced administration of
the VZP could end as soon as January.
Mrs Musilkova's stepping down was conditional to the forced administration wrapping up. The minister is expected to put forward several names over the next few days.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has met with his new German counterpart Frank Walter Steinmeier, to discuss a number of foreign policy issues including the movement of labour and the European Union's budget outline for the years 2007 - 2013. Meeting in Berlin, Germany's Foreign Minister outlined no changes from the previous government on the transition period banning members of new EU countries from working in Germany. At the same time, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda stressed that Czechs represented no danger for the German labour market. During their meeting Svoboda and Steinmeier also discussed a project looking at the historic expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Europe - including Poland and Czechoslovakia - after World War II.
The environmental group Greenpeace says carp caught in the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries contains worryingly high levels of phthalate, a harmful chemical compound found in plastics. A spokesperson said Greenpeace found traces of the chemical far above prescribed limits in carp from three stores in Prague. Carp is the traditional Czech Christmas meal.
Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek says he will resign if he is
unable to form a government after elections next June. Mr Topolanek made
the comment in a newspaper interview on the eve of his party's annual
conference in Brno.
The right-wing Civic Democrats have been ahead in the opinion polls for some time but have conceded ground to the governing Social Democrats since Jiri Paroubek became prime minister this year.
The rate of HIV infection is rising relatively slowly in the Czech
Republic, with 70 new cases recorded so far this year, Miroslav Hlavaty
of the charity AIDS pomoc said on Friday.
Mr Hlavaty warned that young Czechs were unworried about catching HIV, with only 20 percent saying they use condoms the first time they sleep with a new partner.
According to the latest available figures over 800 Czechs are HIV positive and almost 200 have AIDS.
Legendary British rock band the Rolling Stones are set to play in the
Czech Republic's second city Brno next summer, with the promoters due
to announce the exact date next week.
The Rolling Stones were one of the first big foreign rock bands to appear in Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism when they performed at Prague's Strahov stadium in August 1990. They have since played here several times.
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