A special meeting of government coalition leaders regarding the Environment Ministry corruption scandal ran into the evening hours of Sunday with no clear outcome. The meeting is intended to shore up faith among the three coalition parties ahead of a possible vote of no confidence next week. One attendee told reporters the discussion could possibly continue for several days. Environment Minister Pavel Drobil resigned last week immediately after the publication of recordings attesting to shady dealings in and around the State Environmental Fund. The fund’s head, Libor Michálek, secretly taped Mr Drobil’s chief advisor pressuring him to manipulate state contracts in order to finance the political career of Minister Drobil. In another taped conversation, Mr Drobil himself seemed to offer Mr Michálek a promotion if he destroyed the original evidence. The responses of other government figures to the information, including that of Prime Minister Nečas, have widened the controversy.
Interior Minister Radek John has asked the Police Inspectorate to investigate Chief of Police Oldřich Martinů for providing sensitive information regarding the Environment Ministry affair to Prime Minister Nečas. Mr John faults the police chief for informing the prime minister of a case in which he is to be questioned as a witness, and for failing to notify him beforehand. Mr John has sought to remove Mr Martinů from his post on a variety of grounds since at least July. Mr John’s Public Affairs party said Sunday they would be demand his immediate departure at the emergency coalition meeting held later that day.
Meanwhile, Mr Michálek himself told Czech Television on Sunday that he expects an apology from Prime Minister Nečas, who called him untrustworthy and slighted him for “running around the ministry for months with a recording device, rather than contacting the police”. Mr Michálek said he was prepared to go to court over the comments. He also shot back at the prime minister, saying he was surprised he had failed to respond in any way to charges of corruption involving his cabinet, add that it called into question his interest in fighting corruption.
Some 3,500 Czech physicians have confirmed they will be resigning in protest against salary conditions, the union of Czech doctors reported on Sunday. The union says it expects up to 4,000 – or one fourth of all hospital doctors to resign through it “Thank You, We’re Leaving” campaign, which demands that hospital physicians receive up to three times the national average wage. However, Health Minister Leoš Heger says he is confident the final number will be about 700. Mr Heger maintains that there is no money for raising state doctors’ salaries and points out that health care salaries have not been reduced along with other state employee wages. Instead, he asked for the doctors’ help in implementing health care reform so that the situation could be better from 2012.
High among those threatening to resign are hospital neurologists in Prague. According to the union, up to 80% of neurologists in some Prague medical facilities have promised to quit their jobs. In some hospitals, the doctors who have stayed on are predominantly pensioners or are on maternal leave, further reducing the true number of available neurologists at the centres. Hospital doctors currently earn an average 50,000 crowns per month including overtime and services; the union’s goal is an average base salary of 70,000. Health Minister Leoš Heger has said that the government will have to resort to using crisis funds to run hospitals should a majority of surgeons or anaesthesiologists resign.
Bavarian leader Horst Seehofer arrived in Prague on Sunday for the first official, post-war visit to the Czech Republic by a Minister-President of the largest German free state. Mr Seehofer will be received by Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg on Sunday evening and will meet for official talks with the prime minister on Monday. The two-day discussion is to touch primarily on the development of relations between Bavaria and the Czech Republic; Prime Minister Nečas has said he has no intention of discussing issues of post-war German resettlement, which has been a thorn in the side of relations ever since WWII.
The Czech Army began transporting four Pandur II armoured troop carriers to Afghanisatan for use by the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar. Army Chief of Staff Vlastimil Picek told Czech Radio on Sunday that the “Christmas present” would arrive on Monday or Tuesday and that the same plane would bring back four Soviet-made infantry combat vehicles. The deteriorating security situation in the Afghan province has forced the Czech Army away from using Humvees and they current borrow a range of more resilient machines from the United States. A total of 26 Pandur II carriers will be available for the 272-man Logar mission by the spring.
President Václav Klaus says that next year’s state budget cuts will affect the Czech economy by a few tenths of a percent. Speaking on TV Prima on Sunday afternoon, Mr Klaus said that the cuts were perhaps the smallest in Europe and may have to be more extensive in the future. Demand for Czech goods abroad, he said, would have a much greater impact on economic growth than the restrictions on state expenditures. Last week, the government saw its budget for 2011 through the lower house of Parliament. Mr Klaus says the 135 billion crown it calls for - more than 20 billion less than this year – is still low enough for the country to grow out of economically, if no additional debt is added.
A rock burst in the Darkov mine near the Silesian town of Karviná took the life of a 48-year-old miner on Sunday afternoon. Another worker suffered minor injuries. The death is the third to occur in a mine owned by the company OKD this year. The company’s spokesman told the Czech Press Agency that the exact cause of the accident would be investigated by a commission of experts from the local mining authority, the Darkov mine and OKD management and union representatives.
Prague Ruzyně Airport has reported dozens of flight delays and cancellations as airports around Europe struggle against snow and ice. All connections with London Heathrow and Frankfurt Airport have been cancelled as fresh snowfalls brought those airports to a near halt on Sunday. Airports in Italy and Holland are also facing problems. Weather conditions are not expected to improve during Sunday.
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