Trade unions in the health care sector have announced they were going on a strike alert because of the planned reform of state finances. Health care workers joined other trade union organisations which are ready to go on strike should the planned reforms seriously affect their members. Besides other things, the reforms envisage a slower wage growth in the public sector, a tax hike and major changes in the health insurance and pension systems.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has been looking for a new defence minister. Although he has a few suitable candidates, he declined to reveal them. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik resigned on Friday over spending cuts that he said jeopardised efforts to bring the Czech forces up to standards set by NATO. President Klaus is expected to decide whether he will accept the resignation later on Sunday.
A museum dedicated to famous Czech composer Bedrich Smetana opened on Saturday in the town of Jabkenice, Central Bohemia. The memorial and museum was closed for 16 years. It is located in a house where Smetana spent the last years of his life and composed some of his greatest works there, including operas the Kiss and the Devil's Wall, as well as the Bohemian Dances and famous My Country.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus is attending a landmark Russian-EU summit in St. Petersburg, expected to overcome differences between European nations that emerged due to the war in Iraq. Czech president Vaclav Klaus said he would like to officially visit the Russian Federation in the future to become the first Czech president to do so after 1993. He has also accepted invitation to visit China. Mr. Klaus is representing his country at the Russian-EU summit, attended by leaders of the 15 EU nations, candidate countries and Russia. The summit is taking place in St. Petersburg as part of celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the city.
A restaurant owner in the eastern town of Nachod is to compensate and apologise to four Roma, who were not served because of their skin colour. A court in nearby Hradec Kralove ruled on Friday that Karel Svoboda was to pay each Roma 20,000 Czech crowns and send them a letter apologising for the discrimination. Mr Svoboda can still appeal the verdict in the High Court in Prague.
Czechs living abroad have little interest in casting their votes in the upcoming referendum on EU membership, according to the results of a public opinion poll conducted by reporters for the CTK news agency. The results of the study also suggest that interest in the referendum among Czechs abroad is significantly lower than in last year's parliamentary elections. Those who want to participate in the referendum have to do so in the Czech Republic, a condition that many Czechs abroad object to. CTK points out, though, that these terms have little influence as out of the 239 eligible voters on record at the Czech Embassy in Bratislava, just hours away from the Czech-Slovak border, only twelve had shown a sincere interest in the referendum by Friday.
Meanwhile soldiers serving with the Czech Army's field hospital in the Iraqi city of Basra have expressed their dismay at Mr Tvrdik's resignation. The commander of the field hospital said he hoped the minister would reconsider. Sources at NATO headquarters in Brussels said NATO officials were also taken aback by the move. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson held talks with Mr Tvrdik earlier this week in Prague, during the alliance's Parliamentary Assembly meeting.
Meanwhile a concert in support of EU membership planned for Prague's Old Town Square has been cancelled, after councillors on the opposition-controlled council decided not to allow the event. They said the concert, to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel, would be too loud. Prague City Council is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats. The party supports EU membership, but says it's opposed to further European integration.
Mr Tvrdik submitted his resignation on Thursday morning in protest at planned cuts in defence spending as part of the government's finance reforms. The minister, well respected both within the cabinet and among regular soldiers, had masterminded widespread reform of the armed forces to help create a professional army by 2006. Many of his reforms were based on the government spending some 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, as promised to NATO. But under the recently unveiled package of reforms, defence spending is to be cut to two percent.
The government is to launch the final stage of its campaign to encourage citizens to take part in the referendum on joining the European Union in two weeks' time. The final stage will be launched on Sunday, with a series of adverts on television. Most Czechs are in favour of their country joining the EU, but public apathy has raised fears of a low turnout in the referendum. The existing government campaign has been criticised by the opposition and President Klaus as superficial and naïve.