Parliament on Tuesday recalled Jirina Musilkova from her post at the head of the VZP health insurance company, which is at the centre of a money crisis in the health sector. The insurance company is 11 billion crowns in debt and has been consistently late in its payments to private practitioners and hospitals. The insurance company was put under forced administration late last year, but the situation has not improved significantly.
The police have started looking into the case of Social Democrat MP Michal Kraus, who resigned from the lower house on Monday amidst allegations of corruption. The longest serving MP in Parliament came under fire from the press and political opponents when it emerged that he had participated in a dubious business deal in Ghana without any mandate and in cooperation with a man now serving a ten year sentence for fraud. Michal Kraus maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and was merely taken in by a fraudster. He will not stand for re-election in June, saying he does not want the affair to damage the Social Democrats.
In a related development, private doctors, dentists and pharmacists said on Tuesday they were considering a joint protest strategy. Zoran Jojko, a leading representative of the doctors union, said the backlog in payments could have alarming consequences for both doctors and patients. Two thirds of specialists and private physicians are allegedly in favour of joining the planned strike of pharmacists schedule to take place on January 30th. Health Minister David Rath has come under severe criticism from health sector employees and the opposition Civic Democratic Party for failing to resolve the ongoing crisis.
A technical failure at the Lucebni zavody chemicals plant was to blame for the leak of cyanide into the Labe river, which contaminated a 10 km stretch of the river and poisoned many tons of fish. Environmentalists say damage to river-life was extensive. Specialists who have been monitoring the environment say the concentration levels are slowly decreasing and will most likely drop below those deemed toxic by the time the spill reaches Germany. The cyanide is being gradually eliminated through contact with oxygen. The factory responsible faces a fine of up to ten million crowns.
A new terminal at Prague's Ruzyne international airport is to open for service on Tuesday. The North II terminal is expected to increase the international airport's capacity by 4 million passengers annually. Last year, the airport saw a record 10.8 million passengers. The new 320 million dollar terminal will handle flights between the Schengen visa countries; non-European Union and other flights will remain at the old terminal.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka have reportedly agreed to set aside government funds towards buying out the owners of a pig farm, built above the site of a World War II-era internment camp. Hundreds of Romany people, including at least 241 children, died at the Lety u Pisku camp site. Thousands more were killed after being transferred to places like Auschwitz. Activists have been calling for the Lety pig farm's removal for over a decade. This autumn, the Czech human rights commissioner Svatopluk Karasek estimated removing the pig farm would cost at least 12 million US dollars, but the prime minister has said it should cost considerably less. A finance ministry spokeswoman declined Monday to reveal how much money the government would be set aside.
Eastern Europeans are far less prone to dieting than their counterparts in Western Europe, according to a report by the market research agency GfK. Only one in ten people from Eastern Europe have started diets to lose weight, the report said, compared to one in five in Western Europe. Around 73 per cent of Czech women and 62 per cent of Hungarian women said the diets they tried had not worked. This compared to 61 per cent of Dutch women. The GfK report added that one-third of Central and Eastern Europeans believed their own food to be heavy in terms of calories.
The ruling Social Democrats have removed two prominent people from the party's candidate list for the general elections in June, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek. Former agriculture minister Jaroslav Palas was taken off the list for his role in allowing the company Cesky olej to take over Setuza, a chemical producer. MP Oldrich Nemec was taken off the candidates list for having publicly doubted the credibility of another party deputy, Michal Kraus, in his explanation of a questionable business trip to Ghana.
The Czech Environmental Protection Agency (CIZP) has confirmed reports that cyanides released into the Labe River were behind the death of tones of fish last week. An agency official told the state news agency CTK the hazardous material probably entered the river from Kolin, east of Prague, where several large factories are located. Fish farmers downstream have been forced to clear tones of half-dead fish from the river. The environment protection agency official said that the perpetrator, once identified, faces a fine of up to 10 million crowns.
Czech pharmacists have decided to hold a three-hour protest strike on Monday, January 30th, in defiance of policies proposed by Health Minister David Rath, namely the lowering of profit margin on medicines by 3 percent. On Sunday, after meeting with the prime minister, the head of the Czech Pharmacists' Association Lubomir Chudoba said pharmacists would also launch a public campaign explaining how - in their view - Mr Rath's proposal would be damaging. According to Mr Chudoba, the lower profit margin will threaten one-third of the country's 2,200 pharmacies. The health minister, though, has made clear patients' interests are of higher priority, since in the health sector pharmacists rank among the highest-income groups.
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