Children around the Czech Republic have been be visited by St Nicholas, an angel and a devil as part of St Nicholas's Day celebrations. People dressed up as the three figures filled up the streets of towns and cities around the country on Monday night, December 5th, the eve of St Nicholas's Day. According to tradition all Czech children are visited by this trio and are given sweets and fruits if they have been good all year and lumps of coal or potatoes if they have been naughty.
The head of the state-controlled General Health Insurance Company (VZP) Jirina Musilkova has said she was threatened with arrest before she was to speak in the lower house of parliament in defence of her management of the insurance company last month. Mrs Musilkova said the threats were meant to make her resign. She also said that the VZP board meeting attended by the newly appointed representatives was manipulated. After the meeting, Mrs Musilkova announced that she would resign from the VZP helm as of January 1, 2006. Last month Health Minister David Rath imposed forced administration on the VZP which had run into debt amounting to 14 billion crowns (580 million dollars).
A new poll by the CVVM polling agency suggests that the majority of Czechs rate the government's performance negatively, while the Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, has received an average rating. Fifty-two percent of respondents rated the centre-left coalition government's performance negatively and eleven percent said they rated it definitely negatively. On the scale of one to five (where one is excellent and five is unsatisfactory), 32 percent of respondents gave the prime minister a three for his performance. His average mark was 2.9.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus has said that the Czech Republic needs to clearly define its own conditions for joining the eurozone. Speaking at a conference organised by the weekly Euro in Prague, President Klaus said Czech politicians and some economists only cite the Maastricht criteria but he said the country should set itself the conditions under which it wants to enter the European Monetary Union. The Maastricht criteria set limits for national debt, inflation, budget deficit and long-term interest rate. The Czech Republic, which does not comply with the budget deficit limit condition, is expected to adopt the euro in 2010, in line with a plan approved by the government two weeks ago.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Zdenek Skromach, has said that around 300,000 to 400,000 employees will be lacking on the Czech labour market in 20 to 30 years and people should therefore work longer and retire later. Mr Skromach said that many companies in the Czech Republic are not interested in employing older workers, force them to retire earlier or to leave their jobs immediately after they reach the age of retirement. The agreement on the pension reform that has been recently drafted by the chairmen of the five parties in parliament envisages the extension of the age of retirement to 65. Last year, people over 65 made up about 14 percent of Czech society. According to Mr Skromach, this figure may reach 23 percent in 2030 and 31.3 percent in 2060.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, whose Social Democratic Party has been gaining ground on the right wing Civic Democrats ahead of next year's general elections, has ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition government with the Communist Party. The Prime Minister recently bowed to the will of his coalition partners and withdrew support for a proposal to abolish the screening law which now prevents former communist agents from acquiring high posts in public service. Pressed by journalists to say who the Social Democrats would link forces with if they did well in the elections, Mr. Paroubek said he was keeping all options open, including that of a grand coalition with the Civic Democrats. Indirect support from the Communists in the event of a minority government has not been ruled out.
The re-enactment of the battle of Three Emperors, on the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's great victory at Austerlitz - or Slavkov, as it is known in Czech - has left several people injured. Doctors said a number of "soldiers" were taken to hospital with bone fractures, eye injuries and even hypothermia. Four thousand history buffs and enthusiasts from 33 countries took part in the biggest ever reconstruction of a Napoleonic battle - performing for a crowd of 30, 000 spectators. The event was screened live by Czech television.
The acting chairman of the Social Democratic Party and Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has indicated that he will not support the efforts of senators Jaromir Stetina and Martin Mejstrik to outlaw the promotion of communism and the use of communist symbols. The proposed bill, which would force the Communist Party to change its name and properly distance itself from the past, is to be debated in the Lower House next week. With both the Communist Party and the ruling Social Democrats likely to vote against it, its chances of approval are slim. Meanwhile the leader of the right wing Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek told Czech Radio on Sunday his party would support the bill.
Health and social care workers unions have warned against arbitrary closure of hospitals and called on the government to prevent this happening. The unions said that the new health minister David Rath was using the forced administration he imposed on the largest Czech health insurance company VZP to cut the revenues of some hospitals. They implied that the decision was not made on the grounds of their performance but on the basis of his personal view of it. The unions said that although they understand that changes to the health system are necessary they should be carried out in a transparent way.
Following talks on the EU budget in Budapest, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said Britain's proposal to slash spending should affect all member states equally, not just the newcomers. He said that Britain now expected the newcomers to bear the greater part of the burden, an estimated 73 percent of the proposed cuts would be made at their expense. The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia indicated during Friday's talks that they would be prepared to accept a small cut in the aid they receive from EU coffers in return for easier access to funding. However, the concessions they are prepared to make fall short of the cuts proposed by Britain. Money for regional development is considered essential for the newcomers to catch up with the old EU members.
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