A group of fathers’ rights activists blocked the entrance of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on Monday. The protesters are unhappy about having to pay child benefits when they have been denied custody of their children. They feel that the recent appointment of Lenka Pavlová as head of the Office for the International Legal Protection of Children will only worsen their situation, claiming that she is biased against fathers. Minister Nečas who made the appointment has refused to be pressurized on the matter. A ministry spokesperson said that Mr Nečas’s schedule had not been interrupted by the protests.
Former president Václav Havel’s state of health has improved greatly, and he is expected to be out of hospital by the end of the week. The head of Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine made the announcement to journalists on Monday evening. Mr Havel was hospitalized on January 19 with chronic bronchitis and a heart problem. Due to his hospitalization, he missed the preview of Citizen Havel - a documentary film made in his honour.
Consumer confidence grew in January, suggests data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Monday. Czechs’ faith in the domestic economy was up by 4.7 points on the month before. Confidence was up in business circles as well, but by much less – only 0.7 points. However, in comparison to this time last year confidence in the Czech economy is down. Consumer confidence has fallen by 11.8 points since January 2007.
A man has died after being shot by police during a hold-up at a petrol station. The incident happened at around 02:00 in Libhošt’, northern Moravia. Police have arrested one other assailant and a third man escaped. The 24 year-old, who has not been named, was rushed to hospital but died on the way. The Interior Ministry has said that it is investigating the shooting, but is unwilling to comment at this stage.
Czech and American officials negotiating a treaty which would cover the planned US radar base in Brdy, central Bohemia, currently disagree on several key issues, reports Monday’s edition of Právo. According to the newspaper, American delegates are pushing for a treaty which not only covers the planned missile-defence base, but all future American military projects on Czech soil, to which Czech negotiators are opposed. Another point of contention is whether US soldiers will be subject to Czech or American law when on the base. Právo reports that there has also been no agreement on the share of damages that would be paid to third countries in the event of missile deployment. The Czech Republic would like the US to pay all damages incurred, though current American legislation decrees that the Czech Republic would have to pay 25% of any damages successfully claimed.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has launched a new programme to make it easier for Ukrainians to find work legally in the Czech Republic. Under the programme, three job centres in Ukraine will be linked with five such centres around the Czech Republic. Staff in the Ukrainian centres will give free advice on finding work in the Czech Republic and help with filling-out forms and applications. The project has been coordinated so as to try and shut out the mafia – it is thought that many Ukrainians are found jobs in the Czech Republic by illegal agents to whom they then have to give a percentage of their earnings. After Slovaks, Ukrainians are the second biggest group of foreign workers in the Czech Republic. At the end of 2007, over 61,000 Ukrainians were registered as working in the country.
Roman Rokos, the father of a missing five-year-old boy found murdered in December, has sent a complaint to Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil regarding steps taken by officials in his son’s case. According to Mr Rokos, state officials failed to act in the case – leading indirectly to the boy’s death. A court had granted Mr Rokos custody of his son, but the boy was then abducted by his mother. She, along with a boyfriend, has been charged with the boy’s murder. The child had been missing since last August, and the police failed to make headway on the case. They uncovered his body in a car during a routine road check at the end of December. The suspects were arrested at the scene. An internal investigation earlier concluded that police officers had not erred in the case of the missing boy.
President Klaus met with Green Party deputies on Monday, in a bid to drum up support ahead of next week’s presidential elections. Green Party deputies, however, called Mr Klaus’s visit a ‘formality’, as the party has already pledged its allegiance to the incumbent president’s rival, Jan Švejnar. The Greens have said that Mr Klaus is an unacceptable presidential candidate for them in view of his position on climate change. But Green MP Olga Zubová said that the party would receive Mr Klaus out of politeness, and that Green deputies had prepared several questions for the incumbent president. The presidential elections will be held on February 8 and Mr Klaus is widely considered to be the favourite.
In another poll released on Monday it was found that only 29% of Czechs are happy with the state of their country. This figure is 12% lower than in the autumn of 2006. According to the Eurobarometr poll, Czechs are particularly unhappy with the rise in the price of food. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said that they were happy with the direction their country was moving in, while 46% of those asked said they were not.
Reforms in the tax, health-care, pensions and education systems are considered as necessary by the majority of Czechs, found an opinion poll conducted by the STEM agency. The majority of Czechs approve of the government’s tax, healthcare and welfare reforms launched on January 1 of this year. An overwhelming 77% of respondents said that they approved of the new taxation system, which cuts direct taxation in favour of indirect taxation. Some 74% of those polled said they were in favour of changes made in the healthcare system, while 66% of people said they expected the pensions system to be overhauled in a similar manner. The government’s reform package has caused some controversy since it was implemented at the beginning of this year, hospitals have refused to collect the fees that patients must now pay when visiting a doctor, and there have been grumbles about the rise in VAT.