The Czech Parliament has abolished healthcare fees for newborn babies. On Wednesday, deputies almost unanimously approved an amendment to the government’s healthcare reform package, exempting newborns, organ donors and those legally ordered to undergo treatment from paying healthcare fees. As part of the government’s healthcare reforms, patients have been obliged since January to pay 30 crowns (nearly 2 USD) per visit to the doctor, and 60 crowns per day spent in hospital. On Tuesday, thousands of healthcare workers went on strike in protest against the reforms.
The Czech Republic has been ordered to return some 235 million crowns (15.3 million USD) to the European Commission, after failing to use the money in the stipulated way. Hospodářské noviny reported that Brussels awarded the Czech Ministry for Regional Development the sum over a decade ago so that it could help small and medium-sized businesses emerge. In subsequent years an audit found that a large portion of these funds had been misappropriated. According to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, the Czech government has been told to return the money to the European Commission’s coffers by August 7. Ten former employees of the Ministry for Regional Development are currently being tried for their role in the disappearance of the funds.
Czech President Václav Klaus has protested against a bill which would allow foreigners to register their same-sex partnerships in the Czech Republic. He voiced his protest to the amendment by refusing to sign it, nor did he reject it. The bill, which was passed by the Czech Senate at the start of the month, will become law in spite of the president’s symbolic protest. In a statement, Václav Klaus attacked the bill which widens the scope for same-sex marriages, to which he was also opposed when they came into law back in 2006.
Czech MPs voted on Wednesday to raise the retirement age in the Czech Republic to 65 years of age. Labour Minister Petr Nečas said the move was necessary in the face of an ageing population, with a higher life-expectancy rate. Previously, the retirement age was 62 for men, and 61 for women. Deputies also moved to raise the number of years that Czechs are required to make payments into a pension fund from 25 to 35 years. The bill still has to be approved by the Senate and President Václav Klaus. If passed, the new laws should come into effect by 2031.
Two Czechs have been arrested in India and charged with illegally poaching rare insects. On Wednesday, a representative of the Czech Embassy in Dehli confirmed reports that biologist Petr Švácha and forester Emil Kučera were being held in custody, having been caught butterfly-collecting in the Singalila National Park, Northwest India. The accused say they were unaware of Indian wildlife legislation and were collecting the insects for research purposes. According to Indian daily The Statesman, the insects found in the pair’s possession had a value of up to 5400 crowns (350 USD) apiece. The Indian police have refused to release the two men on bail, they are expected to appear before a court on July 7.
President Klaus has granted pardon to a Czech found guilty of smuggling heroin in Thailand. Emil Novotny spent ten years in a Thai jail before being returned to the Czech Republic in 2004, where he was to remain in jail until 2038. On Wednesday, President Klaus pardoned Mr Novotny, saying he was very young when he committed the offence, and that the fact he had spent time in a Thai jail should be taken into consideration.
Brno authorities have banned two rallies intended to protest against the country’s first gay parade on Saturday. Requests by two right wing groups to hold rallies against the planned gay-rights march were turned down by the council, who feared clashes. The ‘Queer Parade’ will be the first march of its kind in the Czech Republic. Organisers predict around 300 people will take part. It is to be held in the Czech Republic’s second city on Saturday at 14:00.
The Czech Republic has become a member of the European Space Agency, it was announced on Wednesday. The move comes after 12 years of Czech cooperation with the intergovernmental organization. The European Space Agency now comprises of 17 of the European Union’s 27 member states, and is a partner of the American space agency NASA, as well as NASDA in Japan. Education Minister Ondřej Liška responded to the decision by saying that full membership of the organization would prove ‘massively signficant’ for Czech science.
Mr Klaus has made fresh comments about the European Union’s embattled Lisbon Treaty. In an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper, Mr Klaus warned against ignoring the Irish electorate’s rejection of the treaty two weeks’ ago. He warned of ‘catastrophic consequences for Europe’ should EU leaders exert pressure on Ireland to change its stance on the treaty. The Czech president chided EU leaders for ‘ignoring their own rules’ by continuing to ratify the treaty now that the document no longer had all member states’ support. In the interview, Mr Klaus called for a ‘new document, written by new people’ in order to take the EU forward.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said the strike held by trade unions on Tuesday was politically motivated. Mr Topolánek said the country is not threatened by the reforms against which the unions protested, but by not having enough of them. According to the chairman of the opposition Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek the number of those joining the strike was huge and the government should regard it as a challenge.
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