The lower house started debating the government's controversial reform
package on Tuesday. The debate was opened by Finance Minister, Miroslav
Kalousek, who reiterated that the aim of the package was to reduce the
deficit in public spending to below 3% GDP. The opposition responded that
the reforms were 'against all plain common sense'. If approved, the reforms
will have an impact on almost all areas of life. Among the most
controversial are the proposed income and corporate tax reforms, and a
financial restructuring of the health system, bringing with it the
introduction of medical fees.
The opposition is against the package and, with the smallest of majorities, the ruling coalition of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens will need the support of every one of its deputies to push the reforms through. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has linked his cabinet's future to the success of the reforms, saying that he will resign if they fail to win approval.
The head of the Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, and former Health Minister, David Rath, would like to postpone presidential elections until the 7th of March 2008 at the earliest, reported Lidove Noviny on Tuesday. The current president Vaclav Klaus' mandate expires on the 7th of February, and if elections were put-back, then he would be forced to move out of Prague Castle, where he currently holds office, and lose the right to his current PR team. Mr. Rath told Lidove Noviny that this would only be fair, allowing any candidate running against Mr Klaus in the 2008 elections the same privileges as the current president. Civic Democrat MPs have called this an attempt to 'humiliate' the president, and are describing the suggestion as 'petty'. The suggestions have not been heeded by the head of the lower house, who has said that he will not be calling elections any later than the 8th of February.
Meanwhile, the results of an opinion poll conducted by the Median agency indicate that 55% of Czechs understand and accept the need for reform. Only 10% of Czechs strictly oppose it. The highest rate of support comes from people aged 18 to 24. Labour and SocialAffairs Minister Petr Necas said this was "encouraging news".
Ahead of its Champions' League tie with Arsenal on Wednesday, Sparta Prague has warned its fans that it will not tolerate racism. Both the team's captain, Tomas Repka, and coach, Michal Bilek, have spoken out against racist chants and behaviour in the national press. Sparta has said that it will up its surveillance for the match, installing more CCTVs and deploying undercover agents to infiltrate the fans. Those breaching anti-racism rules will face fines and even possible criminal prosecution. Sparta has had to pay for its fans' racist behaviour in the past. In 2005, UEFA fined the club 900 thousand CZK (45 thousand USD), when racist fans sabotaged a Champions' League fixture against Dutch club Ajax.
At a press conference marking the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2002 floods, mayor of Prague Pavel Bem said that the City Hall had invested 2 billion CZK (100 million USD) into flood protection. He said that 95% of the city was now protected against a disaster of such magnitude and that in the event of a flood, the new protection system could be erected within 24 hours. 40 billion CZK have gone into construction and reconstruction work.
In protest against the planned reforms, trade unions staged a mass demonstration outside of the lower house on Tuesday afternoon. Several hundred people took part in the protests. Shortly before the government started their debate on the reforms, union representatives handed over a sack of letters lobbying individual MPs. Trade unions say that the proposed reforms will benefit the rich and hurt the middle and lower classes.
The Czech Republic is to close its embassies in Uruguay, Singapore and Zimbabwe, it was announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday. Consulates in Bonne, Cape Town, Katowice and Milan will also be shut down. The government says that it has taken this step so as to plough more resources into the Czech Republic's 2009 EU presidency, and the country's entrance into the Schengen zone. The decision will affect around 120 people in total.
The case against Tomas Cermak, the police officer who was accused of
beating-up Green party deputy Katerina Jacques, is to be reopened. The
announcement was made by a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office on
Wednesday morning. Mrs Jacques accuses Mr Cermak of attacking and beating
her for no reason during an Anti-Nazi May-Day protest march back in 2006.
Following on from the incident, Mr Cermak lost his job and was charged with abuse of public office. But his case was shelved in November last year, when the State Attorney concluded that there were insufficient grounds for prosecution, and that Mr Cermak had acted in line with police regulations when he arrested Mrs Jacques. Mr Cermak now awaits trail.
A team of American experts are inspecting the Brdy military area south-west of Prague which has been selected as a potential site for a US radar base in the Czech Republic. The main goal of the four day mission is to inspect the geological conditions, as well as the infrastructure and transport network. Prague and Washington are holding talks on the possible installation of a radar in Brdy as part of the US missile defence programme, but no commitment has as yet been made. In the Czech Republic such a project would have to be approved by Parliament. Municipalities in the region are strongly opposed to it and opinion polls suggest that the majority of Czechs do not want a US radar in the country.
Trade unions are planning a mass protest against the planned reforms outside Parliament on Tuesday, the day the lower house is due to start debating proposed amendments to the reform package. The organizers say they expect several hundred people to take part. Trade unions say the planned reforms will benefit the rich and hurt the middle and lower classes.