Nearly two-thirds of Czechs are opposed to the stationing of a US radar base in the Czech Republic, suggests a poll conducted by the CVVM agency and released on Friday. In contrast, just under 25 percent of Czechs are for the construction of an American anti-missile defence system here. Analysts from the CVVM agency said that the mood had not changed drastically since the plan was unveiled in 2006, though the amount of opposition had decreased marginally. Some 70 percent of Czechs believe a referendum should be held to decide upon the plan, while 20 percent believe it is a matter for politicians to conclude. The United States has been negotiating for ten interceptor rockets to be installed in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic as part of its global missile defence system.
The Czech military has suspended one of its biggest contracts with the lorry-maker Tatra, after a fault was discovered in the design of the military vehicles being supplied. The cabs of the lorries in question are not water-tight, and the manufacturer has now been asked to redress the problem. Tatra Kopřivnice signed a deal with the Czech Defence Ministry worth 2.6 billion CZK (164 million USD) to supply the army with hundreds of trucks. The supply of these lorries was delayed by several months, for which the firm already faces a hefty fine. The 121 lorries which have already been delivered may now be withdrawn so that the design fault can be rectified.
Czechs may have to pay for their fillings in the future, Health Minister Tomáš Julínek told journalists on Saturday. Addressing the Czech Dentists’ Chamber, Mr Julínek also said that he agreed with dentists’ proposals to make patients pay for their services in cash instead of through insurance companies, but that for now, this was not his top priority. The chamber of dentists’ believes that people would look after their teeth better if they had to pay for dental work directly, which by extension could curb the problem of a lack of dentists in the Czech Republic. But on Saturday, Mr Julínek said that he would get round to drafting such reforms only after he had focused on proposals to privatise several of the country’s state health insurers and university hospitals.
Czech cardinal Miloslav Vlk has said that he is considering retirement in 2009, reported Mladá fronta Dnes on Saturday. Cardinal Vlk was released from hospital on Friday after collapsing from exhaustion two weeks ago. He is now expected to recover at Třeboň spa in Southern Bohemia. The head of the Czech Catholic Church was diagnosed with a heart problem last year, and underwent surgery to have a pacemaker fitted. He released a statement on his website this week to say that he thought it highly likely that he would be standing down from his function at the end of the year.
Czech president Václav Klaus has said that he is ‘ashamed’ of his country’s government following on from its decision to recognise Kosovo’s independence. On Friday, Mr Klaus met the Serbian ambassador to Prague Vladimir Vereš, who is being summoned home from the Czech capital in light of the Czech cabinet’s decision. In a letter to the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes on Saturday, president Klaus said that he had been reminded by Mr Vereš that the Yugoslav government had been one of the few not to ‘betray’ Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring of 1968, and that he was ‘ashamed’ of his cabinet’s decision. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said in response that he too was extremely sad that the Serbian ambassador to Prague was being withdrawn, but that the Czech government had no choice but to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
The Czech Republic will not be represented in Saturday evening’s Eurovision Song Contest final after Czech hopeful Tereza Kerndlová was eliminated in the competition’s second semi-final. Ms. Kerndlová’s song “Have Some Fun”, as well as the accompanying pyrotechnic display, failed to woo the judges. Sweden is widely regarded as the favourite to take the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest title in Belgrade on Saturday.
President Václav Klaus unveiled a monument to Edvard Beneš, Czechoslovakia’s second president, in the latter’s home town of Kožlany on Saturday. At the unveiling ceremony, Mr Klaus praised Beneš as a true democratic politician, who helped contribute to the building of what is now the Czech state. The statue was unveiled to mark the late Beneš’s 124th birthday. Beneš was president of Czechoslovakia between 1935-1938 and again between 1945-1948. He was also head of the Czech government in exile in London during the Second World War.
Czech police have filed charges against Communist MP Josef Vondruška, who stands accused of maltreating prisoners in Minkovice jail in the 1980s. Mr Vondruška is charged with abuse of office, having purportedly beaten inmates while working as a warder at the prison. The Communist MP allegedly targeted political prisoners such as the dissidents Jiří Wolf and Vladimir Hučín. He denies all charges. Late last year, Czech parliamentarians decided to strip Mr Vondruška of his political immunity and hand him over to the police for investigation.
Following on from the theft of over 800 name plaques from the graves of Holocaust victims in North Bohemia, MPs are discussing whether to tighten laws on the sale and purchase of scrap metal. The parliamentary subcommittee for waste and raw materials is suggesting that individuals should no longer be able to approach scrap yards with items for sale – that only firms and town councils should be authorized to do so. Members of the committee suggest that this would lower the number of thefts of metallic objects, and ensure that something like what happened at the Terezín concentration camp cemetery never happens again. But critics of the plan, such as the head of the Green Party Martin Bursík, say that this would lead to dumping of old scrap metal in the country’s forests and in nature.
In related news, Prague’s Charles University will stop courses at its medical facilities if the health minister successfully pushes through transformation of university hospitals into joint-stock companies. A spokesman for the institution made the statement on Friday, saying a resolution on the subject had been passed by the university’s academic senate. Health Ministry spokesman Tomas Čikrt responded by saying the step amounted to blackmail, adding the move was exaggerated as the legislation was currently only under discussion. Along with universities, the opposition Social Democrats and Communists oppose the planned reform. In addition, the idea has also come under criticism from the two smaller parties in government, the Greens and the Christian Democrats. Students of medical faculties, meanwhile, protested against the planned changes earlier this week.
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