The Social Democrats held conferences in six regions on Saturday ahead of their party congress in March, at which a new leadership will be elected. Prime Minister and acting party chairman Stanislav Gross opened the conference in Prague, while his competitor in the run for party leadership Transport Minister Zdenek Skromach attended the conferences in the Moravian cities Zlin and Brno.
Mr Gross warned the Social Democrats, the main ruling coalition party, had adopted an image of a divided and 'extinct' party that has nothing to offer its supporters. He called onto his colleagues to put aside their differences and unite to prove the party is active, has goals, and strives to achieve them.
Government and trade union representatives failed to come to an agreement over the future of the Czech health care system at a meeting on Saturday. Trade unions, health insurance companies, and doctors, have been opposed to a health ministry plan that seeks stronger state involvement in the management and financing of health care. The meeting proved there was further disagreement over organisational issues.
At the end of the month Health Minister Milada Emmerova hopes to introduce her long-term health care plan to the Czech cabinet. On Saturday, the country's trade unions, health insurance companies, and doctor associations were asked to draw up their proposals regarding financial aspects of the plan and forward them to the ministry.
A Cuban refugee couple living in the Czech Republic were reunited with their two children in Prague on Saturday, 18 months after being separated. Liuver Saborit and his wife Mayda Arguelles came to the Czech Republic in the summer of 2003 and were granted political asylum in December. Their nine-year-old son and two-year-old daughter were not allowed to leave Cuba and remained in the care of their grandparents.
The couple say they were forced to leave after being threatened with prison following a large wave of repression against dissidents. Since then, they have staged a numer of protests in Prague to pressure the Cuban government into releasing their children.
Sixty hardened men and women took a swim in the cold waters of the Vltava River in Prague on Saturday in the annual "Vltava in January" race. The enthusiastic swimmers raced each other on five 100-1,000 metre tracks. The temperature of the water was close to three degrees Celsius; the air was only two degrees warmer. The swimmers from eighteen clubs came from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, and Germany.
Czech teenage tennis player Nicole Vaidisova is out of the Australian Open after Lindsay Davenport defeated her in straight sets (6-2, 6-4) in the third round of the single's match on Saturday. Lindsay Davenport, the 28-year-old American top seed, was pushed hard by the talented 15-year-old Vaidisova before her greater experience had her clinch victory.
Czech Radek Stepanek is also out of the tournament, defeated by Guillermo Canas of Argentina 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
Meteorologists say it will continue to snow in most parts of the country, turning to sleet and rain at the beginning of next week. Day-time temperatures over the next few days will gradually drop below freezing point.
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