The lower house of Parliament has voted to extend until the end of 2006 ongoing Czech military and peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. Deputies also agreed to more than double to 150 the number of Czech soldiers and personnel dispatched to Afghanistan, where a Czech contingent will take control of the Afghan capital's airport. In Iraq, the Czechs will maintain about 100 experts either training Iraqi security forces or working at a British military hospital. The main opposition Civic Democratic Party agreed to the extensions but said they would like the Czech Republic to participate in fewer missions, in order to make better use of "limited resources".
An official from the BBC's Czech language service - which has been slated for closure by London along with ten other foreign language services - has said the radio station's management hopes to form a joint venture with a local partner and continue broadcasting. Michal Rucicka said in an interview that the new-old service would be carried by BBC Worldwide, a commercial branch of Britain's public broadcaster. The BBC Czech service has an audience share of less than 1 per cent, but is popular with decision makers. The BBC is to launch an Arabic-language TV station and is closing down Czech and other foreign-language services to help fund that venture.
The upper house of Parliament has nominated a candidate to fill the last vacancy on the 15-member Constitutional Court. The nomination of Judge Vladimir Kurka, aged 57, was supported in a secret ballot by 61 of 65 senators present for the Thursday, the state news agency CTK reported. Judge Kurka has worked with the Supreme Court since 1996 and specialises in civil proceedings. He has never been a registered member of a political party. Czech President Vaclav Klaus is expected to approve Judge Kurka's appointment to the Constitutional Court this month.
Municipal authorities in the town of Trutnov, some 100 kilometres east of Prague, have ruled that an activist who publicly announced the Czech prime minister's mobile phone number -- at a local music festival -- did not commit an offence. After activist Stanislav Penc gave out Jiri Paroubek's number at a concert this autumn, thousands of people sent the Prime Minister phone text messages. Most expressed indignation over police action months earlier to shut down a free music festival known as CzechTek. Activist Stanislav Penc successfully argued that he had not violated anyone's personal privacy. The mobile phone number he publicised was already listed on the official webpage of the Social Democratic Party of which Mr Paroubek is chairman.
The wife of former president Vaclav Havel is being treated for a chronic thyroid gland condition and unspecified heart problems. Dagmar Havlova, aged 52, acknowledged in a statement that she was seeking treatment, after a series of reports on her health appeared in the Czech tabloid Blesk. She said doctors had recommended extensive rest and asked that the media respect her privacy and allow her to recover in peace. A film and theatre actress before she became First Lady, Dagmar Havlova had announced plans to return to the stage in March. Friends of the family were quoted as saying that was still her intention.
The new Skoda Octavia has been named "best import" in Germany's annual "Auto Trophy" poll. The prize is announced by the motoring magazine "Auto Zeitung". This year, more than 90,000 readers of the magazine voted in the poll. Skoda Auto has been part of the Volkswagen Group since 1991. The new Octavia model was named 2005 car of the year in the Czech Republic, where it is manufactured, as well as in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Lithuania, Serbia and Montenegro, Ukraine, and Great Britain.
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.
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