The Chamber of Deputies has voted down a bill aimed at blocking the transformation of teaching hospitals into joint-stock companies. The proposal was put forward by shadow health minister David Rath. It was voted down by a narrow majority, although two government MPs – Věra Jakubková and Olga Zubová, both from the Green Party, voted in favour. Prior to the move, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek promised that neither the health ministry nor the government would transform the hospitals into joint-stock firms. But the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists insisted that the vote go ahead.
More than 100 pigs, found starving and in appalling conditions on a farm near Jihlava this week, have been put down. The order was put forward by the regional authorities. When discovered the animals had no water or feed but the farm’s owner denied maltreating them. The remains of more than 200 additional specimens were uncovered decomposing on the site. The authorities in the region called the case the worst animal abuse they had seen in 35 years. Police are continuing to investigate; if charged and found guilty of animal abuse the farm owner could see a fine, a ban from further activities, as well as a year in prison.
The Senate has approved an amendment on the registered partnership law that will considerably soften the conditions for foreigners wanting to marry or enter into registered partnership in the Czech Republic. The amendment was approved by 25 out of 46 senators present. The original government draft embedded stricter conditions in order to come down on fictitious marriages. Now, the legislation could allow foreigners even at risk of being expelled to enter into marriage in the Czech Republic. The bill will still need to be signed by the president before coming into law.
In related news, the Social Democrats have pushed for the Chamber of Deputies to hold a special session on the judiciary next week. Representatives of the opposition party have expressed concerns over unauthorised interference by the supreme state attorney in Jiří Čunek’s corruption case, and they - as well as some in the government coalition such as the Green Party’s Kateřina Jacques – say Supreme State Attorney Vesecká should be dismissed. The Social Democrats failed to push the issue onto the agenda in the lower house on Friday. It is expected the ruling coalition will try to block the special session set for the end of next week.
Montenegro has announced similar steps to those taken by Croatia this week banning tourists from bringing in foodstuffs, a step seen unfavourably by the Czech Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents on Friday. Montenegro will reportedly ban the bringing in of food items with exceptions such as fresh fruit as well as dietary foodstuffs for children with diabetes. Croatia, though, agreed on Friday to overturn its decision and delay its ban on meat and dairy products for six months. On average 800,000 Czech tourists visit the Croatian coastline, a favoured summer destination, each year. By contrast, fewer Czechs visit Montenegro, a little over 30,000 in 2007. The Montenegrin ban on brining in foodstuffs is take effect on June 15.
The environment ministry has denied a request by Urania Mining to conduct preliminary tests on possible uranium mining in the region of Liberec, north Bohemia. The decision was expected by local activists. The area of Podještědí near Liberec is recognised for its valuable uranium deposits; local representatives have opposed to the idea on the grounds that mining would heavily impact the local ecology.
Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has said he will not recommend to the government that Supreme State Attorney Renata Vesecká be dismissed from her post. He made the statement after a Prague court ruling on Thursday cast doubts over steps she and others took in a high profile investigation of Deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek. He was investigated on allegations of corruption but was cleared of all charges. The court on Thursday ruled that shadow justice minister Marie Benešová did not have to apologise to Mrs Vesecká for suggesting she was corrupt. The decision can still be appealed. Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil made clear on Friday repercussions could be discussed once the court decision was final. The prime minister, meanwhile, has firmly backed Mrs Vesecká in her post.
Opposition Social Democrat MP Miroslav Svoboda has told Czech newspapers Mladá fronta Dnes and Právo he could envision his party supporting government plans for a US radar base in the Czech Republic in return for the government’s retreating from a proposed bill on church restitution. The MP clarified, though, on Friday, that he would vote along his deputies’ clubs lines when it came down to a decision in the lower house. Mr Svoboda said his aim was simply to broaden discussion. Deputy party head Bohuslav Sobotka suggested in reaction on Friday that exchanging the radar plans for church restitution made little sense, given that the latter bill has stalled in government and might not go through.
The government has approved a law which orders mobile phone operators to store data on all calls made on their networks. Critics have reacted to the government’s decision by saying the new law infringes upon an individual’s personal freedom. But on Thursday, Industry and Trade Minister Martin Říman said that the bill merely serves to bring the Czech Republic in line with other EU states. Mobile phone operators were concerned that they would have to foot the bill, though on Thursday the government decided that the project would be funded out of the state budget. President Václav Klaus still has to sign the bill for it to become law.
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