The Office of Naval Research World on Friday opened an office in Prague, its first in Central and Eastern Europe. The office will operate at the US embassy in Prague to which the ONR will move some of its London-based staff to look for worthy scientific research projects in the region. ONR provides grants and other funding sources for scientific research in exchange for access to it. The office operates in the US and 70 other countries and works with researchers at universities and in the private sector.
Preparations are underway for the 160th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. Masayk, who founded an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1989 laid the founding stones of democracy in the country, enjoys tremendous respect to this day. The 160th anniversary of his birth on March 7, 1850 will be marked around the country, particularly in his home town Hodonin. President Vaclav Klaus is to open an exhibition on President Masaryk’s life and work at Prague Castle on March 2 and a bronze equestrian statue of the country’s first president is to be unveiled outside the T.G. Masaryk Museum at Lany near Prague.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said he wants to ask the Czech intelligence service BIS to cooperate in the police investigation into the purchase of armoured personnel carriers for the Czech army. The contract with Steyr is being investigated on suspicion of corruption after a Czech daily quoted former executives from the Austrian firm as saying that Czech political parties had received bribes in connection with the deal. The prime minister said his request for BIS involvement did not imply a lack of trust in the police investigation, but was based on the belief that the intelligence service might have valuable information on the case which might otherwise be considered classified.
The Czech Doctors’ Chamber has approved a new set of guidelines relating to care for terminally ill patients. According to the daily Lidové Noviny which broke the story on Friday, doctors will have the option to decide when to stop giving terminally ill patients intensive treatment, and concentrate merely on easing the patient’s pain and discomfort. This would concern predominantly patients in a coma and patients with multiple organ failure. The Doctors’ Chamber has stressed that this is not to be interpreted as euthanasia. Nevertheless, it is being described by doctors as a revolution in Czech medicine.
The Health Ministry is preparing to hand out certificates of quality to state-run hospitals and health centres around the country. The certificated will be issued on the basis of results achieved and an assessment by patients themselves. Late last year the ministry conducted an in-depth survey of the care provided in 18 state run hospitals and 12 psychiatric institutions. The survey, in which 26,000 patients took part, indicated general satisfaction with the treatment provided and the length of time patients had to wait to be admitted to hospital, but respondents complained about the quality of hospital food and the authoritative attitude of doctors and nurses.
The police has launched an investigation into Prague City Hall’s controversial OpenCard project. The multipurpose OpenCard was launched last year to replace city transport passes as well as library, museum and other types of service cards. However the project has not met the intended goal and, at a cost of over 800 million crowns, has come under attack for being grossly overpriced. Three independent audits have already been conducted, each concluding that the project was badly conceived and reporting untraceable invoices and a lack of transparency in commissioning. Critics say the main tender was tailored to the company Haguess and lots of other companies were commissioned to do work that was not essentially necessary.
Transport unions have announced a decision to postpone a strike set for Monday morning until Thursday, in order to give Parliament time to meet their demands. The move came after the cabinet agreed at an emergency meeting on Thursday night to abolish proposed tax changes which would reduce employee benefits. At the direct intervention of Prime Minister Jan Fischer, transport unions agreed on Friday to give Parliament a few more days to scrap the respective amendment from the proposed tax changes. Union leaders have threatened to go on an indefinite strike if their grievances are not addressed. Parliament is to debate the issue at a special session next Tuesday.
Czech speed skater Martina Sáblíková has been selected to carry the flag at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The honour is in recognition of her historic achievement after becoming the first Czech ever to win two gold medals at one Winter Olympics. The 22-year-old took the gold in the women’s 5000 metres, the 3000 metres and a bronze in the 1500 metres.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is to visit the Czech Republic next Friday. He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Foreign Minister Jan Kohout for talks expected to focus primarily on Czech military involvement in Afghanistan. In response to a NATO request for reinforcements, the Czech government earlier approved a plan to boost the Czech contingent by 55 soldiers and operate two radars in the southern Afghani province of Logar. For the time being Parliament has confirmed the continued presence of 535 Czech soldiers in the country, most of them serving on the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar.
Members of the lower house of the Czech Parliament agreed on Thursday to tighten rules on anonymous shareholding. The proposal, put forward by the Social Democrats, and the Greens, should ban issuing shares to anonymous persons. Supporters of the move claim that this should help counter money laundering. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats, who oppose the plan, say it will interfere with ownership rights. Tightening the rules on shareholding has been recommended by several of the country’s anti-corruption watchdogs, including Transparency International. The proposal could take effect from the start of 2011 if backed by the upper house and president.