A team of Canadian immigration experts is to visit Prague at the end of January on a fact-finding mission ahead of a possible abolition of visas for Czech citizens. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Embassy in Prague said the team would meet with Czech officials and NGOs to ascertain how well the country is protecting its ethnic minorities and assisting their integration. The information is to be used for a future revision of the visa duty. Canada re-imposed visa requirements for Czech citizens in 2009 citing a steep rise in the number of Czech asylum seekers, mainly of Romany origin. Ottawa has not indicated when it might lift the visa requirement but pundits say that is unlikely before it adopts a stricter asylum policy.
The prime minister has said he wants to meet with police chief nominee Petr Lessy in person before deciding whether to confirm his appointment. Mr. Lessy, deputy head of the south Moravian police force, was selected for the post by a special board at the request of Interior Minister Radek John. The selection process has come under fire from both the prime minister and a number of independent experts who expressed the view that it could be in breach of the law. The ruling Civic Democrats and their junior coalition partner Public Affairs have been at loggerheads over the process of electing a new police chief since the forced resignation of Oldřich Martinu in December, whom Public Affairs regarded as a puppet of the Civic Democrats.
The centre-right coalition parties have agreed on the key pillars of a planned pension reform. At a meeting on Thursday, the leaders of the Civic Democrats, T0P 09 and Public Affairs agreed on raising the lower VAT rate currently at 10 percent to a single 19 percent VAT, transferring a part of the insurance payments to private pension schemes and increasing welfare benefits for the poor, the elderly and families with children. Details of the plan are still being debated. Experts have been calling for a radical pension reform since the fall of the communist regime in 1989.
The Czech carbon permits registry said it aimed to locate 1.3 million stolen carbon permits and either reverse the fraudulent transactions, which led to a halt in trading across Europe this week, or invalidate the permits. The European Union imposed a week-long freeze on Wednesday on spot trade in its carbon market, the bloc's chief weapon for fighting climate change, after the theft of emissions permits called EU allowances from accounts in the Czech Republic and Austria. Czech registry operator OTE said on Friday it was investigating and aimed to identify the accounts to which 1.3 million missing permits went after the incident. The search should be completed in a matter of days.
The Association of Patients has called on the government to find the money needed to raise doctors’ salaries in order to prevent a mass exodus from state hospitals at the beginning of March. The head of the association Luboš Olejár said that if the government failed to address the problem soon patients’ health could be put at risk by hospitals’ inability to provide acute care and a drop in the quality of care provided. Following a meeting with Health Minister Leoš Hégr on Friday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas stood his ground saying he would not back down in the face of blackmail. The health minister recently asked doctors to have patience saying a reform of the health sector would make it possible to increase doctors’ salaries in 2012. Close to 4,000 doctors who are threatening to walk out over low pay have said that is not good enough.
The Nurses’ Union said on Friday it would not join in the doctors’ protest campaign Thank You, We are Leaving, despite the fact that the country’s 80.000 or so nurses are also severely underpaid in state hospitals and clinics. Nurses have expressed concern that the potential closure of some hospitals in the wake of a mass exodus of doctors would leave them jobless and have pointed out that doctors should not get salary hikes at the expense of other medical workers.
Six people serving on government councils in the sphere of human rights have urged Prime Minister Petr Nečas to appoint a government human rights’ commissioner without delay. In an open letter to the prime minister, Filip Pospíšil, chairman of the council for civil rights, Džamila Stehlíková, on the council for the rights of children, Věra Roubalová, on the council for the rights of foreigners and three others remind the prime minister of his promise to fill the post of government human rights commissioner within two weeks following the forced resignation of Michael Kocáb. The authors of the letter say that if the post is not filled by the end of January, they will vacate their seats on the respective government councils.
Transport Minister Vít Bárta has sent a letter of apology to Prime Minster Petr Necas after a private mail sent to his assistant accidentally appeared on Facebook. The statement sent by Mr. Bárta in the wake of difficult negotiations over the selection of the new country’s police chief read : the prime minister is acting increasingly childish and my patience with him is fast running out. The incident comes amidst strained relations between the prime minister’s Civic Democrats and Mr. Bárta’s Public Affairs party. The prime minister has not commented on the incident.
An opinion survey by the polling agency STEM reflecting the popularity of Czech politicians indicates falling support for prime minister and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas and foreign minister and TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg. The prime minister’s support rating has dropped from 49 percent in November to 41 percent at the beginning of January. Minister Schwarzenberg’s popularity is on a similar decline. The country’s most popular politicians at present are the two main rivals for the post of Social Democrat leader – the party’s acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka and governor of south Moravia Michal Hašek.
An eight-month-old baby boy was airlifted to hospital on Friday after an accident in which he suffered severe burns to 30 percent of his body. The child was reportedly leaning on a kitchen counter and overturned an electric kettle on himself full of boiling hot water. A hospital spokeswoman said the child was in critical condition after suffering second degree burns on his face, chest and back. Police are investigating the incident on suspicion of negligence.
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