The shockwaves of the government’s double legislative defeat on Friday continue to be felt within political circles – with one newspaper headline simply calling it PM Topolánek’s “Black Friday”. Legislation calling for the abolition of doctor’s fees for children, seniors and those in poverty proposed by the opposition Social Democrats passed its second reading in parliament after gaining the support of Christian Democrat MP Ludvík Hovorka, Green Party MP Olga Zubová, Social Democrat rebels Evžen Snitilý and Petr Wolf and former Civic Democrat MP Juraj Raněnec. The vote was seen as a severe blow to an embattled Civic Democratic party reeling from various scandals and infighting – and in particular to Health Minister Tomáš Julínek, the co-architect of the current doctor’s fees. A second opposition bill to reduce petrol taxes also passed its first reading.
Foreign Minister Karel Shwarzenberg has conceded that the current financial crisis in the US could delay the building of a proposed missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as the US Congress seeks cutbacks on spending. Both major US presidential candidates are committed to the scheme, albeit with certain reservations about assuring its functionality. In comments made at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Mr Schwarzenberg also stated that Czech officials had been in contact with both Senators Obama and McCain with regards to the project. The Czech Republic’s parliament has not yet ratified a treaty on the base, although a vote is expected by the end of this year.
Ludmila Brožová-Polednová, the former prosecutor in the Stalinist show-trial of anti-communist dissident Milada Horáková is expected to begin a six-year prison sentence for her part in the capital murder of Mrs Horáková by the end of October, according to reports. Mrs Brožová-Polednová will serve her sentence in a prison in Plzeň. Last week, Czech president Václav Klaus denied a request from Renata Vesecká, the country’s Supreme State Attorney to pardon Mrs Brožová-Polednová, following her conviction earlier this month. The appeal had been made on the grounds of Mrs Brožová-Polednová’s advanced age – 86 – and relatively poor health.
On Friday evening, mourners said their final farewells to the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Pakistan Ivo Žďárek, who was killed during a terrorist attack on the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan last Saturday. The 47-year-old’s funeral took place in the Czech town of Hradec Králové and was attended by about 200 mourners. Tributes were paid at the service to the ambassador’s professionalism and humanity.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama briefly mentioned the Czech Republic along with other eastern European states in Friday’s presidential debate with Republican opponent John McCain. The comments came as the candidates discussed the perceived threat posed by Russia, particularly in light of its recent invasion of Georgia. Addressing the issue, Mr Obama stated that as a NATO country “We also have to affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region…the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts.”
Czechs remain reluctant to forgive Germany for its annexation of its Sudeten territories in 1938 – as a result of the notorious Munich agreement. The information comes in a new poll carried out by the Meridian polling agency. According to figures provided by the organisation, 39% said they are not ready to forgive Germany, 22.7% said they were, while 22.1% said they did not know. However, when broken down by age-group, the results paint a different picture. Of those aged between 55-64, 71% said they could not forgive Germany, while for under-24s, the answer was only 22%. In a separate question, 51.8% of respondents answered that the post-War expulsion of around 3 million Germans from Czechoslovakia was the correct action.
A summit hosted by the chair of the Czech senate Přemysl Sobotka for European politicians and held on Saturday led those attending to vow to continue and accelerate ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The meeting was organized by Mr Sobotka ahead of the Czech Republic’s assumption of the EU presidency in January 2009. In attendance were representatives from 11 central and eastern-European nations.
Czechs across the country have been marking St Wenceslas day (officially on Sunday). In the town of Brandys nad Lábem, Cardianl Vlk carried several extremely rare artifacts, including the skull of the Czech patron saint at a special ceremony attended by hundreds of Czechs and also the Czech president. This year marks 1100 years since Saint Wenceslas’s birth.
Czech president Václav Klaus is to depart for a five day working trip to the US. Among the stops on the official itinerary are Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington and Phoenix, Arizona. The president will promote an English-language version of his controversial “anti-global-warming” book and also meet with business leaders and politicians during the trip.
The opposition has pushed a proposal - aimed at abolishing mandatory health care fees for pensioners and others - through a first reading in the lower house. If passed, the bill will exempt pensioners but also those under the age of 18, as well as some low-income earners. That would mean two-fifths of the population would not have to pay fees which include 30 crowns for each visit to the doctor’s or 60 crowns per day spent in hospital. Some 2 million seniors and roughly the same number of minors would be affected. Exemptions have already been made in some cases, including that of newborns and organ donors. Friday’s bill passed somewhat surprisingly in its first reading with help from coalition MPs Ludvík Hovorka, of the Christian Democrats, and Olga Zubová of the Greens.
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