The Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has strengthened his position as leader of his Social Democrats ahead of a party congress in March, raising his chances of remaining head of government into 2006. Two regional party chapters backed Mr Gross's leadership at the weekend and another delivered a no preference vote between Mr Gross and his leftist rival, Deputy Prime Minister Zdenek Skromach, who will challenge the incumbent at the congress. Mr Gross's victory would keep in place the Social Democrats' cabinet with two centre-right partners, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, before the spring 2006 general election. Stanislav Gross took over from Vladimir Spidla as party chief and prime minister in June after the Social Democrats' poor showing in the European Parliament election, but has so far failed to revive the party's fortunes.
Around 5,500 people applied for asylum in the Czech Republic in 2004, which is the lowest number since 1999. More than a half of the applicants in 2004 came from Ukraine and Russia. Compared to 2003, the number of asylum seekers dropped by 52 percent. The drop is believed to have been caused by the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union on May 1, 2004.
A seventeen-member Czech medical team has left for Sri Lanka to set up a mobile children's hospital in the city of Galle in the south of the island. The team will join a group of Czech rescuers who have been working in the tsunami-hit island since last week. The hospital, called Hope from Bohemia, is expected to treat its first patients on Friday. By the end of January the personnel will be joined by gynaecologists and obstetricians. The mobile hospital is expected to work in Sri Lanka for six months.
The former Health Minister Marie Souckova has been accused of breach of trust. Ms Souckova allegedly broke the law when she brokered a controversial contract during her tenure at the ministry, which she left in April 2004. Ms Souckova appointed the lawyer Zdenek Novacek to represent the state in a compensation case launched by the blood plasma company Diag Human. Mr Novacek was to be paid 10 million crowns for taking the case and he was to charge a further 170 million crowns if he won. Experts have found his services highly overpriced. If found guilty, ex-minister Souckova faces two to eight years in prison. Last week, Ms Souckova, a former vice-chairperson of the Social Democrats, left the party reportedly over public statements of fellow party members relating to the Diag Human case.
Although the two countries do no have an extradition treaty, the UN mission in Liberia expressed confidence on Sunday that the Liberian government would soon hand over a Czech national charged with illegally exporting arms to Iraq and several other countries. Dalibor Kopp had operated an illegal ammunitions production line and exported arms to Africa and the Middle East. He was arrested by UN peacekeepers in Liberia last month. If found guilty Mr Kopp faces up to 10 years in prison.
The legendary rock-and-roller Chuck Berry has arrived in the Czech Republic and is due to kick off his "Rock n' Roll Never Forgets" tour of Europe on Sunday night in Prague. The 78-year-old guitarist, known for hits like Maybellene" and "Johnny B. Goode," will play Lucerna Palace along with the Joe Richardson Express, an American blues group.
Fewer than one in four people working for the police in the latter half of last year 2004 had been employed there before 1990, Prime Minister Stanislav Gross said in written reply to a deputy from the main opposition Civic Democrats. A historian told the state news agency CTK this was evidence that a "major overhaul" of the police force had been undertaken. Information on the number of former Czechoslovak secret police (StB) agents working for the police, however, has not yet been made public; Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan, asked to provide this information during a November session of Parliament, said none held any senior police posts. He said perhaps a couple dozen former StB employees work for the police and these had shown they were "of value to the force."
Canada dropped a 5-4 decision to the Czech Republic on Saturday, in its second game of the men's hockey tournament at the 2005 World University Winter Games. Three of the Czechs' five goals came on breakaways. Czech goaltender Tomas Dusek was the story of the game, turning aside 49 of 53 shots. The Czech Republic (2-0-1) leads the way with five points, with defending champions Russia (2-0-0, 4 pts) second followed by Japan (1-1-1, 3 pts).