An estimated two thousand members of trade unions from all over the country marched through Prague on Thursday morning to protest against public spending cuts planned by the government. The unions say they recognise the necessity of reforms but believe the government's plan is socially insensitive and would in effect decrease the living standard of ordinary people. They criticise the cabinet for sweeping social spending cuts but little effort to increase budget revenues and fight tax evasions.
Thursday also saw strikes in most hospitals around the country. The head of the Trade Union-Association of Czech Doctors Milan Kubek described Thursday's protests as the first warning, adding that if it failed doctors would stage a nation-wide open-end strike. Mr Kubek said that in that event, hospitals would provide only urgent medical services. In most hospitals Thursday's protest had only the form of leaflets. In some hospitals operations were suspended for a short period either in the morning or at noon. Doctors disagree with the government's intention to save almost 50 billion crowns in the next three years on wages of doctors, teachers and other public sector employees.
In response to Thursday's protests, Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists that the government had no possibility to meet the wage demands of trade unions. He added that to give up the plan for consolidation of budgets was too high a price for calming down the unions. According to Mr Sobotka, the government proposes to the unions either to preserve the current 12-category wage system with a slight real growth of wages in the next three years or to introduce a 16-category wage system with lower wages than supposed originally.
On Wednesday the Czech cabinet approved a plan to cut the public finance deficit to four percent of GDP in 2006, but left the details of sweeping reforms for further debate. The government had approved the aim of lowering the deficit from a record high of 6.2 percent of GDP this year as the country prepares for eventual euro adoption. Debate on the issue is likely to challenge the durability of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's ruling coalition.
The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said that the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, were a reaction to the attack on Czechoslovakia by the Nazis. In an interview for Thursday's edition of the German daily Passauer Neue Presse, Mr Schroeder also said that although the Berlin government still considered the post-war deportation of Germans as an arbitrary act, it believed that the questions of the past would increasingly recede in the background after the Czech Republic joined the European Union.
Friday will be overcast with occasional rain. Daytime temperatures should reach highs of 23 degrees Celsius.
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