The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has said the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has played a big role in the history of Palestine and that he will be greatly missed by the Palestinian people. Mr Svoboda added that the Nobel Peace Prize winner can be regarded as a controversial figure because he was connected with the complex issue of the Middle East conflict. The foreign minister will attend Mr Arafat's funeral in Cairo on Friday. In the 1970s and 1980s communist Czechoslovakia provided political and financial support to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, as well as arms and military training. Mr Arafat visited communist Czechoslovakia on ten occasions.
The Bulgarian government has approved a draft privatisation contract for the sale of three power distribution companies to the Czech power utility CEZ. The Czech power producer is supposed to pay over 280 million euros for a 67-percent stake in the distribution companies in the capital Sofia, the city of Pleven and in the Sofia region. The head of CEZ, Martin Roman, said the purchase was a milestone in the development of CEZ and the Czech energy industry. He said it was the first step to becoming a leader on the Central and Eastern European electricity market.
The vice president of the Czech Republic's football federation, Milan Brabec, stood down on Thursday after being heavily implicated in a match fixing scandal that has rocked Czech football. However, he denied any wrongdoing. Mr Brabec's position became untenable after police taped telephone conversations between him and Ivan Hornik, the former manager of the club Viktoria Zizkov. Mr Brabec, the then head of the federation's referee commission, and Mr Hornik were heard arranging referees for matches involving the club in a bid to fix results during the 2003/2004 first division season. The match fixing scandal in the Czech Republic erupted in May when police charged Jaroslav Hastik, the sporting director of FC Synot, with trying to bribe match officials. Around 30 referees were then charged with attempting to fix matches as a result of evidence from phone tapping by the police.
The upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, is discussing an amendment to the election law which should enable Czechs living abroad to take part in elections to the lower house of parliament by sending absentee ballots. The amendment would also concern Czech citizens living in the Czech Republic. According to estimates, there are between 250.000 and 300.000 Czechs living outside the Czech Republic.
A poll carried out by the Stem agency suggests that most Czechs want the government to immediately start a fundamental reform of the health care and social areas. In the poll, about 60 percent of respondents voiced the view that the cabinet would finally have to resort to deep cuts in the health care and social areas. Although several health ministers have submitted their ideas of the reform, none of them has been accepted. The current Health Minister Milada Emmerova wants to present her draft reform at the beginning of next week.
The office of the Czech ombudsman says it has evidence of 40 new cases of alleged coercive sterilisation of Roma women - more than a third of them performed before 1989. The office is now gathering documentation which will be handed over to the Health Ministry. The first reports of alleged cases of coercive sterilisation appeared in September. The ombudsman Otakar Motejl appointed an expert commission to look into the matter. It is now to assess whether the cases of sterilisation were in accordance with Czech law and medical ethics.
The Culture Minister Pavel Dostal has been released from hospital where was treated for pneumonia and is to stay in home care until the end of November, a spokeswoman for the Culture Ministry said. The 61-year-old minister is still recovering from a serious operation in September during which doctors removed a malignant tumour from his pancreas. According to the ministry's spokeswoman, Mr Dostal should return to his duties at the ministry and in the lower house in early December provided that his health condition allows it. Minister Dostal will undergo chemotherapy at the same time.
The government has approved a crisis plan for the eventuality of a global flu epidemic. Although no new virus strain has been detected, scientists are worried that a bird flu virus could mutate and spread on to humans. In case a new variety of the flu virus occurs, Czech doctors will distribute anti-viral drugs until a vaccine is developed for the mutated virus. Flu epidemics occur every year but every 30 to 40 years the virus changes to the extent that existing vaccines cannot prevent the illness. The last such epidemic was in 1968.
Prague university students who are - as they put it - disquieted by the current situation in society, mainly people's declining interest in public affairs, are going to stage a march on November 17 whose route will copy that of the student march 15 years ago, which triggered the anti-communist Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. The organisers expect up to 10,000 people to join the event. Representatives of the student leaders of 1989 are expected to address the opening rally. The current students will read a declaration of their own, which will be available for the public to sign. Former anti-communist dissidents, including Catholic priest Tomas Halik and folk singer Jaroslav Hutka, will address the rally after the march ends on Prague's Wenceslas square.
The government has decided that Czech diplomacy will support the launch of negotiations on Turkey's accession to the European Union. The Prime Minister Stanislav Gross will present the Czech stand at the EU summit in December which is to make a final decision on the start of the integration process with Turkey. However, the Czech government along with representatives of the European Commission stresses that Ankara must fulfil all membership criteria and there is no automatic guarantee that the talks will result in EU admission. Turkey has sought to become an EU member since 1963. Europe however criticises the country for its treatment of women and the Kurdish ethnic minority.
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