Prime Minister Petr Nečas has called on the Education Minister, Josef Dobeš, to distance himself from the statements made by his ultra-conservative advisor and HR chief Ladislav Bátora. The prime minister added that it was simply unacceptable that a conflict over the insults by Mr. Bátora would get in the way of cabinet sessions. Mr. Nečas is planning to address the situation with Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg when he returns from his holiday at the end of the month. Mr. Schwarzenberg had become the target of Mr. Bátora’s insults following his colloquially-phrased criticism that he was inappropriate for his position. In response, Mr. Bátora called him a “poor little old man.” Due to the dispute, cabinet members of the TOP 09 party, of which Mr. Schwarzenberg is the chairman, walked out of a Wednesday meeting of the government and threatened to leave the coalition altogether unless the Education Ministry rebukes Mr. Bátora and dismisses him from his post.
In related news, Finance Minister and deputy chairman of the TOP 09 party Miroslav Kalousek has made it clear that he would not support a planned tax reform in the lower house unless either Education Minister Josef Dobeš or his ultra-conservative advisor and HR chief Ladislav Bátora resign. Until then, Mr. Kalousek insists, none of the TOP 09 party’s ministers will attend government sessions. He added that government posts should not be abused for the propagation of extremist views and that a government official should not be able to get away with insulting a member of the cabinet. Next week, the three-party, right-of-center coalition is set to discuss a planned tax reform that would introduce the taxation of gambling. Radek John, the chairman of the junior coalition partner Public Affairs, has warned that if the reform is not approved next week, the government will not be able to introduce taxes on gambling, which would cost it some seven billion Czech crowns.
Health Minister Leoš Heger has assured doctors and nurses that he will do everything in his power to secure salary raises for them in 2012. According to an agreement signed by the minister and the doctors’ unions six months ago, wages for doctors and nurses are to be increased by ten percent next year. The health minister added that despite initial difficulties, doctors’ salaries already saw a growth of 20 percent on average this year. However, health insurance companies have announced that they will reduce their coverage of patients’ hospitalization, which could lead to a budget deficit in the health sector. In addition, a change in value added tax to take effect next year will reduce the health ministry’s budget by four billion crowns in 2012.
According to its yearly report published on Thursday, the government’s advisory board NERV will be addressing current events such as the debt crisis in the euro zone as well as the union’s new draft budget for the years 2014 to 2020. Among NERV’s priorities is examining how the euro zone’s debt crisis may affect the domestic market. The board announced that its six groups would be working together more closely. In addition, NERV will form ad-hoc work groups devoted to debt-related issues as well as the EU budget. NERV was established in January 2009 as an expert advisory board for the government of Mírek Topolánek.
Environmental activists are prepared to organize another blockade to prevent the logging of bark-beetle infested trees in the Šumava National Park in September, the organizers of the previous blockade announced on Thursday. Five to ten activists have stayed behind in the protected area of the national park. Although the park’s management has announced a two-week logging interruption, environmental activists have decided to remain at the site to make sure trees are not being felled. Some 1000 to 2000 trees are still marked for logging following the last felling effort. Activists have said that their future actions will depend on the park management’s decisions. A discussion between Environment Minister Tomáš Chalupa, the national park’s management and environmentalists is scheduled for next week.
The Ministry of Education will be launching a half-billion crown project in September to bring Czech scientists working abroad back to the country. The “Return” project aims to draw 15 researchers in the first year and 16 in the following two years and run until 2019. Institutions will be able to apply for funding for specifically named scientists they would like to bring back to the country; the money will cover their salaries, the purchase of instruments and other laboratory necessities. A similar project ran last year in Southern Bohemia and succeeded in bringing seven Czechs and 19 foreigners to the region at a cost of 100 million crowns.
Russian police arrested a Czech citizen near the Siberian Lake Baikal on Thursday. The man had been on the run from Czech authorities for over ten years. According to a report in a local paper, the 46-year old had been charged with fraud and sentenced to 20 months in prison, from where he escaped to the Russia. He settled down in the Lake Baikal region. Czech authorities have not yet commented on the arrest. A decision over whether the man will be extradited is still pending.
The regional court in Brno gave prison sentences of 18 years to two Polish citizens, who in January murdered their roommate brutally in the West Moravian town of Velké Meziřící. The two men had returned home severely intoxicated and kicked and punched the 39-year-old man, who succumbed to his injuries after the two others left him in the room without help. According to the court coroner, the man died in great and prolonged physical pain. He added it would be easier to name the few organs that remained intact in the attack than those that were injured. The three men were working in manual professions and sharing one room.
Punk-rock legend Iggy Pop will be headlining at the Trutnov Open Air Music Festival on Thursday, when the four-day festival kicks off. He will be accompanied by his band The Stooges on Thursday night. Czech acts such as Garage, Neruda and the singer Jiří Schmitzer will also be performing on Thursday, ahead of Iggy Pop’s concert. Among the foreign guests at this year’s edition of the open air festival, which is the country’s oldest, is the UK-based Pakistani percussion group The Dhol Foundation.
Visitors to the website of Prague Zoo can watch the hatching of monitor lizards live on Thursday. According to a zoo spokeswoman, one of the animals has already hatched, and another three are expected to hatch today. The breeding of these precious reptiles in Prague Zoo is unique; its monitor lizard Aranka has given birth to her fifth litter, which is highly unusual. To date, 32 specimens of the monitor lizard were born in Prague Zoo.
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