The prime minister has not ruled out possible changes to the reform of the health sector introduced at the beginning of this year. In an interview for the daily Pravo Mr. Topolánek said the new health care system would be reviewed in six months’ time enabling the government to do some fine-tuning, such as exempting newborns and pensioners from having to pay for medical services. The introduction of direct payments for medical services on a blanket scale has come under severe criticism from opposition parties, trade unions and the general public.
Prague’s traditional Easter market on Old Town Square opened on Saturday, March 8th. Visitors will find stalls selling food and a wide variety of Easter goods including hand-painted eggs, wooden toys and intricate lace-work. An outdoor stage has been set up for the performances of choirs, folk music and dance ensembles from around the country. The market is open from 9am to 7 pm daily, and until 8pm on weekends.
The opposition Social Democrats have stepped up their opposition to the US radar base. The party leadership is planning a nation-wide petition against the base and the party will hold a second internal party referendum on the issue in the spring. The vast majority of Social Democrats were opposed to the radar base in the first internal party referendum held recently. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek last week warned party deputies that those who choose to ignore the official party line when Parliament votes on the matter could find themselves off the list of candidates when the next general election comes around.
The leadership of the Green Party has confirmed party leader Martin Bursík’s mandate in the wake of calls for him to resign. Mr. Bursík came under fire from the Olomouc party branch for what they described as his authoritative style of leadership and poor communication within the party. He was also asked to explain a vulgar message that he accidentally sent one of the party members. After a stormy debate regional leaders concluded that while some of the criticism was justified it would be a mistake to recall Martin Bursík from the head of the party. The party leadership also criticized the fact that some party members were using the media to resolve personal conflicts, thus tarnishing the image of the Green party for their own ends.
A 31-year old man fell from the top of Jindřišska Tower, the highest freely-standing belfry in Prague on Saturday. He died on impact. He tower is over 65 metres high and is open to visitors throughout the day offering a spectacular view of the city and a dining room. The police are investigating the fall as a possible suicide.
A deal between Prague and Washington on the siting of a US radar base on Czech territory could be concluded in the spring, Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanová told reporters at the end of a fifth round of talks on the radar this week. The latest round of talks focused on conditions governing the presence of US soldiers at the radar base. The Czech government is pushing ahead with the negotiations despite criticism from opposition parties and the public. Public opinion surveys suggest that around 70 percent of Czechs are opposed to the base.
A woman from Ostrava celebrated her 103 birthday on Saturday, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Josefa Odehnalová received good-wishes from the town’s mayor and got a visit from the media. The sprightly old lady jumped onto her spinning machine to show journalists her recipe for longevity and did a dozen squats for good measure, telling newsmen that a shot of brandy a day kept the doctor away.
The leaders of the three parties in the Czech governing coalition – the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Greens - have said they are ready to overcome their differences in order to preserve the three-party alliance. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek called a meeting of party leaders on Friday to ascertain their position after serious differences had emerged both during the presidential elections and over Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek’s possible return to government posts. The Green Party is strongly opposed to Mr. Čunek’s return and the prime minister has said he would only take him back if the two smaller parties in government reached agreement on the matter.
A number of Czech women’s rights groups and lobbies held special events to mark International Women’s Day on Saturday, March 8th, but they were very much in the minority. Although International Women’s Day remains what is called “a noteworthy day” in the Czech calendar the day was discredited by the communist regime to such a degree that few Czechs bother to mark the occasion, associating it with communist medals, red carnations and compulsory celebrations. Efforts by left wing parties and women’s rights’ activists to revive its original meaning have not been successful.
Leaders of the three government coalition parties - including Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek - have met to discuss priorities including the possible return of Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek to the cabinet. The issue of the politician’s return will be discussed again on Wednesday. Members of the government remain at odds over Mr Čunek despite the fact the politician was cleared of corruption charges last year. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg threatened in the past to step down if Mr Čunek was reinstated as deputy prime minister and minister for regional affairs, without first adequately explaining his financial dealings. Some Greens, including party leader Martin Bursík, also expressed unease over the situation. The Christian Democrats have been pushing strongly for Mr Čunek’s reinstatement, saying they have a right to be properly represented in government.