One of the deputies of the governing coalition Ludvik Hovorka of the Christian Democrats said after the late night talks that he would not support the reform package. Mr. Hovorka said he was particularly unhappy about proposed changes to the health sector and would submit his own proposals in the course of the debate. Even without his vote, the government still stands a chance to push through the reforms due to the fact that two former Social Democrat deputies, now unaffiliated, have promised to back the reform package.
The mandate and immunity committee of the lower house on Wednesday postponed a debate on whether to strip Communist Party deputy Josef Vondruska of his parliamentary immunity. Vondruska is suspected of having tortured prisoners under the former Communist regime when he worked as a prison guard. Police want to question the deputy about his past activities following charges of brutality filed by former political prisoners. Vonduska has dismissed the accusation, saying that the case was a pretext to damage the Communist Party. According to Communist Party leader Vojtech Filip, the chamber may vote on Vondruska's case in September.
The head of the Social Democrats' deputies group in the lower house Michal Hasek said on Wednesday that if the reform package was approved in its present form he would file a complaint against it with the Constitutional Court. According to the Social Democrats the ruling coalition is proposing some modifications in the form of a "rider" i.e. an amendment to a bill that is not directly related to it, a practice which the Constitutional Court has overruled in the past.
Leaders of the governing centre-right coalition have come to an agreement on the package of reforms being presented to Parliament. Following a late night meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Civic Democrats, Jiri Cunek of the Christian Democrats and Martin Bursik of the Greens said that they had reached a compromise on the main sticking points of the reform plan - taxes and medical fees. Under the proposal, taxes should decrease faster than originally planned - and everyone except the chronically ill should pay for healthcare.
Europe's largest low-cost airline Ryanair will be flying from Prague to Dublin and back every day as of November 7th. Its rivals on the route are Czech Airlines and Aer Lingus. Ryanair expects to carry over 100,000 passengers in the first year, sales director for central Europe Tomasz Kulakowski said. He said the flights are likely to be used mainly by Irish tourists. A survey conducted by the Czech Local Development Ministry has shown that Irish tourists are the biggest spenders in the Czech Republic, spending on average 2,800 crowns daily.
Marcela Urbanova, the key witness in the recently closed case involving deputy prime minister Jiri Cunek has filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court against the state attorney's decision to halt the investigation. The deputy prime minister was suspected of having accepted a half a million crown bribe when serving as mayor of Vsetin in 2002 and Marcela Urbanova, his secretary at the time, claims that he boasted to her about having accepted the bribe. The investigation lasted for six months and was halted last week by state attorney Arif Salichov on the grounds of lack of evidence. Salichov also questioned the credibility of Mrs. Urbanova and said that charges might be brought against her for giving false testimony.
An attempt by the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists to get the vote on the government-proposed reforms postponed until mid-September has failed. Left wing deputies said they wanted more time to study the reform package because the ruling coalition had been making amendments to the proposed reforms up until the last minute. Their joint proposal was turned down by the three ruling parties together with the two unaffiliated deputies Milos Melcak and Michal Pohanka. A vote on the reforms is thus likely to take place sometime next week.
Poultry meat prices on the Czech market will increase considerably owing to growing prices of grains and other inputs, representatives of breeders and meat processors said at a news conference of the Agricultural Chamber on Wednesday. Some meat processors say they expect to charge up to 30 percent more; the actual price growth will depend on talks with retailers. A price hike also can be expected on pork even though it may be slower.
Economists have welcomed the proposed cuts in social benefits but they say that the reforms do not go far enough to counter the country's steep fiscal deficit. Ales Michl of Raiffeisenbank says that even if the proposed reforms are implemented the country would still operate on a high deficit in the coming years, which he sees as a big risk for the country's economy. Economists estimate that as late as 2010 the country will still need to operate on a deficit of around 100 billion crowns.
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.
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