Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is to visit Prague, the ČTK news agency reported on Thursday. The visit is scheduled for February 2nd and is in response to an invitation issued by the Czech president Václav Klaus. Mr Abbas will be greeted at Prague Castle at 10am with military honours, before engaging in a series of negotiations related to the current strife in Gaza and ongoing efforts towards the “two-state solution.” The visit comes against the backdrop of the Czech EU presidency, in which the Czech government, primarily Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg have played an active role in recent efforts to mediate Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Prague has kicked off a two day informal development summit attended by EU representatives. A key subject of discussion will be aid and reconstruction of the Gaza strip, which has witnessed considerable devastation following a conflict between Hamas, which officially controls the territory and Israel. The meeting is being chaired by the Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout and is expected that a concrete figure will be agreed by EU members that will be used to assist Gaza.
Dozens of Czech women have taken part in a demonstration organized by the website Babyweb.cz in protest at a decision by the global social-networking site Facebook to remove images of breast-feeding mothers posted by users. The women argue, that such pictures demonstrate a natural event, which should not be censored by the Facebook site. During the protest, dozens of mothers were photographed breastfeeding en masse by the renowned Czech photographer Sara Saudková.
The former president Václav Havel has been released from hospital, following his admittance on January 12 for breathing difficulties and lung-related complications. Mr Havel was released from the Motol hospital in Prague on Thursday morning. He has been allowed to return home, but doctors are maintaining that Mr Havel’s recuperative regime must continue. Václav Havel was admitted after developing breathing and swallowing problems. An operation was followed by complications which left Mr Havel in intensive care. A doctor that had been part of the team looking after the former president, said that the situation had been very serious and at one point even life-threatening. The former president suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. Reports suggest that Mr Havel was in good spirits when he left the hospital, telling reporters that he felt well.
Pavel Nečas, the Labour and Social Affairs Minister has promised an extra 1.5 billion crowns to social service providers. The announcement was made at a press conference of Thursday. Previously, the budget for social services had been cut by a third in the latest budget. The move comes after intense pressure from representatives in the fields affected. However, despite the additional boost, social services representatives say they will still fall short of what they need by around 700 million crowns.
The association of Czech pharmacists has urged its staff not to ask customers for prescription fees, and instead seek compensation for the amount from local authorities. At the same time, the association has announced that it plans legal action over the disparity surrounding the collection of health fees across the Czech Republic. The opposition Social Democrats who won the regional elections have effectively ended health fees in regional hospitals, reimbursing hospital pharmacies from local budgets, while other pharmacies still collect them. The ruling Civic Democrats, who introduced health fees in early 2008 as part of a controversial health reform programme, insist that pharmacies which do not collect health fees are simply breaking the law.
The coalition government, trade union representatives as well as key employers have agreed on a way forward to boost the Czech economy, according to reports. The announcement came after a meeting on Thursday between representatives of all three “branches”. Among the key conclusions reached by the trio was that banks must be encouraged to loan money and that exports remain key to the Czech economy. Further, the trio also agreed that the government should attempt to assist companies in endeavours likely to create jobs or prevent employees from being dismissed. The purpose of such regular meetings is to ensure smooth relations with both the labour and business communities.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that EU member states need to work together to overcome the current global financial crisis. After a meeting with the head of the European Trade Union Confederation, John Monks, on Wednesday, the Czech prime minister said that Europe’s governments and unions had agreed that a ‘common solution’ was the only solution to the current economic turmoil. At the meeting on Wednesday morning, Mr Monks called on Mr Topolánek to take drastic action to secure European markets during his time at the helm of the European Union. Mr Monks said that it was agreed that protectionism was not the answer to the economic crisis being felt around the continent.
Former Czech president Václav Havel will be released from hospital on Thursday more than two weeks after he was admitted with severe breathing problems, a hospital spokesperson has said. Eva Jurinová from Prague’s Motol hospital said on Wednesday that Mr Havel’s condition had improved considerably and that doctors had therefore decided to release him the following day. The former head of state underwent surgery on January 12, after complaining of problems breathing and swallowing, the operation was followed by complications which left Mr Havel in intensive care. The former president suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996.
In related news, sales of plane tickets shot up in the Czech Republic last year by almost ten percent. According to data released by the International Air Transport Association, Czechs bought over 790,000 plane tickets in 2008, and spent a sum worth more than ten billion crowns on flights. According to the news website iDnes.cz which released the figures, sales could in fact be even higher, as no low-cost airlines have been counted in this survey. The study found that the average cost of a plane ticket fell by 400 crowns to 10,242 crowns (nearly 500 USD) in 2008.
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