The government has earmarked 2.8 billion crowns (117 million dollars) from the state budget as health insurance payments for students, pensioners and the unemployed, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. As of the beginning of February, the government has increased payments to 560 crowns (23 dollars) a month for students and other selected groups. If approved by the lower house, the payments should increase to 636 crowns (26 dollars) as of April. Health Minister David Rath said the increase in payments is one of the measures to reduce the heavy debt of the state-controlled health insurer VZP.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has called for the European Union to open a new debate on nuclear energy. Speaking at a NATO conference on energy security in Prague, Mr Paroubek said Europe must have a clear energy policy in the same way as it has an agricultural policy, and nuclear power should be a key part of it. He added that Austria, currently holding the EU presidency, has taken the lead in demanding a better defined European energy policy. Neighbouring Austria has been a staunch critic of the Czech Republic's newest nuclear plant, Temelin, located close to the Austrian border.
The supermarket chain Hypernova has withdrawn bottled water claiming to prevent bird flu, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The water called Fromin Aktimun, made by Czech company Aquamat, comes in orange, lemon and grapefruit flavour and its label says it acts as bird flu prevention. The water was on sale at two outlets of the Hypernova supermarket chain owned by Netherlands-based Ahold until Wednesday although it had been banned by the State Agriculture and Food Inspection Office in mid-January. Experts say the only effective prevention of bird flu is a vaccine against a particular virus and they described the marketing of the product as "misleading."
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has said he is going to ask the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to put pressure on local authorities in Germany regarding illegal exports of waste to the Czech Republic. Tonnes of rubbish have been imported from Germany into the Czech Republic in recent months as disposing of it in Germany is more costly for German firms. The Czech government said it is considering a ban on all imports of waste into the country. In the meantime there will be stricter border controls.
According to data supplied by the Ministry for Local Development, mortgage borrowing in the Czech Republic reached 72.7 billion crowns (3 billion dollars) last year, some 37 percent more than in 2004, with a total of over 51,000 new contracts. The average sum borrowed last year was more than 1.4 million crowns (58,000 dollars). A further increase is expected in 2006.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek also told journalists that talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who starts an official visit to Prague on March 1, will include negotiations on a new long-term agreement for Russia's Gazprom to supply the Czech Republic with natural gas. The current contract expires in 2013. The Czech Republic relies on Russian gas for about two-thirds of its supplies, most of the rest coming from Norway.
The Czech Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek wants the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland to consider taking joint steps which would prevent the illegal export of garbage onto their territory from the more affluent EU members. In recent weeks the Czech border regions have been plagued by illegal rubbish dumps of what is obviously German waste. Czech firms are not qualified to import or process foreign waste but the illegal activity continues because there is profit to be had on both sides- for German firms it is cheaper to sell it than dispose of it, Czechs involved in the garbage smuggling make huge profit. Other EU newcomers, such as Poland appear to have the same problem.
Efforts by the Social Democratic party leadership to convince party deputies to vote in favour of a bill which would legalize gay marriage in the Czech Republic have not been entirely successful. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who has been pushing hard for the bill's approval, said on Tuesday that several of his party deputies remained adamantly against it and that they would be left to vote according to their conscience. Meanwhile, the party has been seeking supporters for the bill across the political spectrum. Following President Klaus' veto of the bill last week, it would need to gain 101 votes in the Lower House in order to become law.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda wants the EU to demand an apology from Lebanon and Syria in connection with the attacks on Danish embassies by Moslem radicals. The Czech Foreign Minister said that while he did not approve of caricatures which hurt the feelings of believers, the Lebanese and Syrian governments were responsible for the protection and safety of embassies on their territory. The EU should take a joint stand on the matter, Mr. Svoboda said, because a show of disunity or doubt would only fuel Islamic radicalism.
The opposition Civic Democratic Party says the crisis in the health sector must be dealt with immediately. The party leader Mirek Topolanek said at a press briefing in Prague on Tuesday that the government's irresponsible reforms of the health sector were both destructive for the system and dangerous for patients. Corrective action must be taken without delay, the country cannot afford to wait until the June general elections, Mr. Topolanek said. Private practitioners, dentists, pharmacists and some hospitals have called a protest demonstration against the government's health reforms on Friday. The health minister claims that the situation in the health sector has now radically improved and that Friday's protest is a political gesture orchestrated by the opposition Civic Democrats.
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