Political observers say incumbent president Vaclav Klaus has a better change of succeeding in February’s presidential elections than his sole rival Czech-American professor of economics Jan Svejnar. Mr. Klaus has received support from the Civic Democrats - the strongest parliamentary party. In order to beat him Mr. Svejnar would need the votes of the Social Democrats, the Communists and the Greens. Although the Social Democrats and the Greens have promised to support him the Communists are hesitant to commit. Jan Svejnar announced his decision to run in the elections on Friday stressing his pro-European stance and saying he wanted to present a real alternative to Vaclav Klaus.
Three Czech skiers inadvertently triggered an avalanche in the Jeseniky Mountains on Saturday and narrowly escaped getting buried alive under the snow. They were swept down the slope and badly battered but managed to help each other and call the rescue service. One of them is in serious condition, the other two escaped with lighter injuries. The group of young men – aged 15 to 20 - had left the marked trails and wondered into an off-limits area.
The opposition Social Democrats are making a last-ditch effort to prevent the introduction of fees for medical services due to go into effect on January 1. This part of the Health Ministry’s reform plan has proved highly controversial and the opposition parties have attacked it in court. Although the Cabinet is unlikely to meet the opposition party’s demands, a Social Democrat proposal to scrap or delay the introduction of fees for medical services will be debated in Parliament where observers say it has a better chance of succeeding.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has described as “unacceptable” a warning by Russia’s army chief that any US interceptor missiles that might be launched from Poland could trigger inadvertent retaliation from Russia. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said Moscow’s language was “unimaginable in the democratic world” and stressed that Prague had always worked for dialogue on the issue. Russia has reacted with hostility to US plans to site part of its missile defense system in central Europe – with a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Russia’s Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky on Saturday expressed dissatisfaction with the course of negotiations between Moscow and Washington on this matter, saying the two states were locked in a “direct stand-off”.
Air-traffic over Czech territory has more than doubled since the year 2,000 according to data released by the air traffic controller company RLP. This is ascribed to the arrival of low-cost air carriers to central Europe and low over-flight fees. The densest traffic is around Prague’s main airport Ruzyne, but traffic around the country’s regional airports in Brno, Ostrava and Karlovy Vary has also grown sharply.
Celebrations are being planned in towns and villages along the Czech-German and Czech-Austrian borders to mark the country’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone on December 21. There will be street parties and sports events attended by the country’s top politicians. Drivers and pedestrians who cross the border on that day will be given small presents and Schengen information leaflets. Those who stop awhile will be able sample Schengen cakes and Schengen punch. And at midnight there will be a big fireworks display to celebrate the country’s admission to the border-free zone.
A reform of the pension system must be implemented soon -with or without support from the opposition Social Democrats, Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Necas said in a televised debate on Sunday. Mr. Necas pointed out that due to the inflation rate the current pension system might run into deficit in 2010, that is years earlier than expected. The minister said he would put the matter to the Cabinet and Parliament in the coming days. Several outstanding issues remain unresolved such as extending the compulsory period of insurance payment from 25 to 35 years and raising the retirement age for both men and women to 65 years.
A baby girl was left in one of Prague’s baby boxes late on Saturday. Doctors said the baby was just several hours old and the mother appeared to have given birth unattended. There was no accompanying letter or documents of any kind. The baby girl is the tenth child to have been left in a baby box since they were established two and a half years ago. This is the second case of an abandoned new-born child this week. On Thursday a homeless man found a new-born baby boy in a garbage can. He was rushed to hospital with a head injury and severe hypothermia but doctors are now hopeful he will pull through. There are five baby boxes currently operating in the Czech Republic and three more are to be set up next year.
The police broke up a skinhead party in the town of Jirkov shortly after midnight on Saturday after several of the locals complained about the noise. The party was attended by close to a hundred skinheads. Four of them refused to comply with police orders and were taken to the local police station for questioning but were later released without charges.
The opposition Social Democrats have asked the Czech government to speed up the ratification of the new EU treaty, signed in Lisbon on Thursday. Deputy speaker of the lower house Lubomir Zaoralek said his party suspected the government – particularly the Civic Democrats – of wanting to delay the treaty’s ratification as much as possible which, he said, would cast doubt on the country’s commitment to the treaty and tarnish the Czech Republic’s image.