Czech lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to keep in place a law banning communist-era officials and members of the secret police from public service jobs. The Communist Party's proposal to scrap the so-called 'screening' law was rejected in Parliament's lower house on Wednesday. The proposal split the country's ruling Social Democratic Party, some of whose members lined up with the Communists. The main opposition party, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, as well as the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, all voted against. Questions over the screening bill first came to the fore last month when the Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, himself suggested the bill should be dropped, saying it had already served its purpose. Outcry by coalition members and the threat of a rift within the government, however, forced the prime minister to backtrack.
A new anti-discrimination bill amendment was passed on Wednesday promising more protection for Czech citizens. The bill is said to outline fair treatment regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, or age, and should offer additional protection against discrimination in cases of language, political persuasion, property-ownership, and family status. The amendment brings the Czech Republic's antidiscrimination legislation level with EU norms. If passed by the senate and signed by the president, it should take effect on July 1st, 2006.
A new poll released by the Factum agency has suggested that if elections were held today they would see a dead-heat between the opposition, right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the ruling Social Democratic Party. According to the poll, the Social Democrats would now get around 28 percent of the vote, with the Civic Democrats garnering 30 percent. Under current conditions only two other parties would make it into Parliament: the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats. The prognosis, says Factum, indicates that if elections were held now the Social Democrats could play a role in two possible majority governments: ruling either together with the Communist Party or joining a so-called "grand coalition" with the Civic Democrats.
The head of the largest state-owned health insurance company, Jirina
Musilkova, has told Parliament the firm, known as the VZP, has been
losing clients since being put under forced administration in November.
By law, during forced administration clients are allowed to leave
insurers on the 1st of every month. On Tuesday Mrs Musilkova said
almost 9,000 clients had left the firm since mid-November, turning
around the firm's first positive client numbers in years. But, the head
of the Union of Health Insurance Companies, Jaromir Gajdacek, responded
on Tuesday by saying the numbers were not dramatic - representing only
10 to 15 percent rise in the number than left the VZP during the same
period last year.
The insurer has been under forced administration since November 10th. Its head, Jirina Musilkova, has promised to step down on January 1st.
Some 250 Czech university students have appealed to President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek to raise the question of human rights abuses during an upcoming visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jaibao. On Wednesday the students left copies of an open letter at government headquarters and at Prague Castle. An organiser told journalists that students were concerned human rights issues would not get room in discussions focusing mostly on trade, but a government spokesman assured students present, that the prime minister would raise the issue. Along with the appeal, Czech students are asking that the Czech head of state, as well as the premier, push China on opening an inquiry into the 1989 massacre on Tiananmen Square.
Parliament is to decide whether a lower house deputy from the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democratic Party is to be stripped of his immunity. Czech media reports say the Czech police have recordings of Vladimir Dolezal asking for bribes from entrepreneurs in return for a guarantee that they would get the green light to do business in the Prague 10 district. Mr Dolezal is accused of asking for bribes amounting to 800,000 crowns (a little under 33,000 US dollars). He has rejected all claims.
A court has ruled that nine former members of the board of directors of the Komercni Banka bank are not guilty of fraud. They were accused of helping Austria's BCL Trading (owned by entrepreneur Barak Alon) defraud the bank of eight billion crowns (a little under 330 million US dollars). Komercni Banka is one of the Czech Republic's biggest banks.
Meanwhile, the Czech President Vaclav Klaus heavily criticised the British EU budget proposal during a visit to the east Bohemian town of Pardubice on Tuesday. While he has no objections to an overall reduction of the budget, the current proposal was drawn up to the detriment of the new member states and is therefore unjust, he said.
The lower house of Parliament has agreed to support the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. This is the first time that the Czech Parliament voted on EU enlargement since the Czech Republic joined the Union in May 2004. The earliest possible date when Bulgaria and Romania could join the European Union is January 1 2007. None of the deputies present voted against the two countries' accession; one deputy abstained from the vote.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek visited Berlin on Tuesday for talks on bilateral relations and EU matters with Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two politicians say their countries enjoy excellent relations. Mrs Merkel welcomed the British attempt to solve the EU budget crisis, but said serious talks will have to be held with the newer member states to come to a compromise over the proposed budget cuts. Chancellor Merkel also reiterated that any restitution claims made by Sudeten German individuals would not be backed by the new German coalition government.
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