Representatives in Central Bohemia have agreed on a loan for four regional hospitals in financial trouble, hospitals that did not renew contracts with the Czech Republic's largest state-run insurance company, the VZP this January. The region is willing to lend the hospitals 50 million crowns - the equivalent of around 2.1 million US dollars - to cover losses for the care of VZP clients, which the insurer has not covered. The hospitals will have to repay their debts as soon as they receive VZP payments, at the latest by the end of 2006. Both Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the Health Minister David Rath have promised that the VZP will retroactively cover the cost of care.
The leadership of the Social Democratic Party has struck former agriculture minister Jaroslav Palas from its candidate list for the region of Moravia-Silesia, ahead of national elections this year. On Friday, the prime minister called for Mr Palas to recall his candidacy on his own, but he refused. Mr Palas first fell out of favour with the prime minister last year, with Mr Paroubek criticising the former minister's role in what he has called the "disadvantageous" sale of the state's share in the Setuza food-processing company. Mr Palas has dismissed the prime minister's allegation and may appeal the Social Democrats' decision to strike him from the candidate list.
In related news Health Minister David Rath has said he will join the Social Democratic Party ahead of national elections in June. Mr Rath, who is heading the party's Prague candidate list, told journalists on Saturday he would consult the move with other Social Democrats and join the party in the year's first quarter. Mr Rath is the only unaffiliated member of the Social Democrat-led government, which also counts the Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Union.
The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have once again come out strongly against the health minister, on Saturday calling on Mr Rath to apologise for recent statements describing the "looting" of regional hospitals. It is not the first time Mr Rath and the country's largest opposition party have clashed. After being named to the post of health minister last November Mr Rath along with members of the Civic Democratic Party including its chairman Mirek Topolanek, have repeatedly traded words in the Czech media, with the Civic Democrats in the past calling on the health minister to step down.
Delegates in Prague have elected Milan Kubek as president of the Czech Medical Chamber. On Saturday Mr Kubek, the head of the Trade Union of Doctors in the Czech Republic and a close associate of Health Minister David Rath, defeated his closet rival Martin Jan Stransky by a difference of 25 votes out of 323 ballots cast. Earlier in the day the health minister himself had expected to speak at the venue, to indirectly endorse a candidate and Mr Kubek was considered one of his favourites. But, Mr Rath was refused the floor by a majority of delegates. Speaking to journalists prior to the vote, the health minister said he considered Milan Kubek an "excellent candidate".
Passenger traffic at Prague's Ruzyne Airport climbed by 11 percent in 2005 to reach a record 10.8 million, a spokeswoman announced on Friday. In 2004, the main Czech airport and the busiest among the 10 new EU member states, handled around 9.7 million passengers, ranking it 30th among Europe's airports. On Friday, Prague's Ruzyne airport also inaugurated its new North-2 terminal, built at a cost of around 10 billion crowns (450 million dollars). The new terminal will welcome its first passengers on Tuesday.
Czech Culture Minister Vitezslav Jandak, an actor by original profession, will play a hunter for a long lost treasure in an action film set during World War II to be shot in mid-2006, the ministry's press department said on Friday. According to the Czech press, the film, which currently has the working title "Maharal," will be directed by Pavel Jandourek, and shooting will take place in the summer when the government is not working. Mr Jandak, a well-known 58-year-old Czech film and stage actor, was appointed as Culture Minister in August.
The board of the state-run General Health Insurance Company, the VZP, has announced a selection process for its new head to replace present VZP director Jirina Musilkova whom the lower house is likely to dismiss next week, a spokesman for the insurance company said. Health Minister David Rath has repeatedly called on Mrs Musilkova to resign, blaming her for the VZP's 11-billion-crown debt. Mr Rath imposed forced administration on the company in November.
The former Czech football international Tomas Repka is set to rejoin Sparta Prague, eight years after leaving the club. The tough 32-year-old defender will play two more games for English Premier League club West Ham United, before signing a three-year contract with Sparta. Repka said he wanted to return to Prague to be with his family.
Czech senators Karel Schwarzenberg and Jaromir Stetina have said they have been refused visas to Belarus where they planned to meet representatives of the political opposition. Mr Schwarzenberg and Mr Stetina said they were not surprised that they had not been granted visas by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The Belarussian Embassy said it would not comment on the issue.