The cabinet has approved a plan to improve the foreign language skills of both children and adults. From September school pupils will begin a first foreign language in third class, at the age of 8 or 9, and take up a second language five years later. There will also be more language lessons from the beginning of the next school year. The government says the five billion crowns invested in the programme will be well spent, as Czechs need language skills to succeed on the European labour market.
The Czech government has set up a special working group to evaluate the situation in Kosovo and assess what kind of set-up would best ensure a peaceful coexistence of its diverse ethnic groups. The Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the Foreign Ministry now hold radically different views on the matter. The Foreign Ministry supports the view of the EU that no territorial changes or divisions of the province should be made. The Prime Minister recently told Parliament he thought it would be best to divide Kosovo along ethnic lines.
The Chamber of Deputies has voted for what Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach describes as the most far-reaching changes to the social system since 1989. Under the new legislation people who require personal care will be able to choose whatever kind of state-funded assistance they want. Furthermore, families who spend more than a third of their income on rent and energy will receive benefits, and changes will be also be made to the system of sick pay. If the new bills are approved by the Senate and signed by the president they will come into effect in 2007.
The Czech Syndicate of journalists has issued a warning about efforts to curtail freedom of the press. In a statement published on Thursday, the syndicate said its concern stemmed from a recent amendment to the penal code which would make slander a criminal act and tighten the rules for the use of a hidden camera. Miroslav Jelinek, the syndicate chairman also said he was concerned about the government's efforts to interfere with or restrict the work of radio and TV journalists. He denied that the statement was made in connection with a recent government complaint about the content of the satirical TV show Bez Obalu. It has since been announced that the programme will be scrapped for financial reasons.
Czech World War II hero General Rudolf Pernicky died on Wednesday at the age of 90. General Pernicky played an important role in the anti-Nazi resistance and was later imprisoned by the Communist regime. He was rehabilitated after the Velvet Revolution and this year was awarded the highest Czech state honour, the Order of the White Lion.
The outgoing deputy prime minister for the economy Martin Jahn is to be replaced by Jiri Havel, the former head of the National Property Fund. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who said that that Mr. Havel was an experienced professional whose views of the world were very close to his own. Martin Jahn announced his decision to leave politics and work in the private sector two months ago.
The remains of Czech General Alois Elias, who was prime minister of the Nazi Protectorate but was later executed by the Germans for his work organising the resistance, have been acquired by the Military History Institute. The cabinet is now deciding what to do with his ashes, which were saved by a friend. The defence minister, Karel Kuhnl, has called for a state funeral with military honours for the general and his wife, who also supported the anti-Nazi resistance.
The lower house has passed a bill on public tenders aimed at curbing
corruption and increasing transparency. Under the legislation it would no
longer be possible to "direct" a public tender towards one
company. The bill's authors also hope that announcing tenders on the
internet will lead to a decrease in corruption levels.
Deputies have also voted to strip Civic Democrat Vladimir Dolezal of his immunity. Police accuse Mr Dolezal of acting as a go-between in a bribery affair involving a Prague councillor who is also a member of the Civic Democrats.
A court in the Bahamas has refused to release Viktor Kozeny from custody. Mr Kozeny will remain on remand until January 30th, when a hearing begins into whether or not he will face extradition to the United States. The Pirate of Prague, as he is known, is wanted in both the US and the Czech Republic on charges of large-scale fraud.
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