On Friday the XX Olympic Winter Games will officially open in Torino, Italy, lasting from the 10th of February until February 26th. The Czechs have an unprecedented 82 athletes competing. Medal hopefuls include the ice hockey team lead by Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek, who will be attempting a gold-medal run similar to the Czech team's success in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Team representatives are approaching the challenge cautiously, saying that the Czech team is only one among a strong group of favourites that includes Canada, Sweden, and the United States.
The Lower House has passed a bill on injury insurance transferring
compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses from commercial
insurance companies to the state. Under the law, the Czech Social
Security Administration will take over responsibility. At present,
employers in the Czech Republic pay injury insurance fees to one of the
two insurance companies authorised with the task, under the country's
The European Union, critical of the situation, proposed two solutions - either allowing all health insurance companies to pay out compensation or to transfer the duty to the state. Some observers have criticised the bill for not being sufficiently transparent.
The Iranian Embassy in Prague has sent a letter of protest to Czech diplomatic officials. The Foreign Ministry's spokesman Vit Kolar said on Friday that the letter was in response to the reprinting of a caricature depicting the Prophet Mohammed by two Czech newspapers. In recent days, the caricatures, first printed by a Danish newspaper, sparked vehement and sometimes violent protests in Muslim communities from Asia to the Middle East. The Czech dailies - Mlada Fronta Dnes and the financial newspaper Hospodarske Noviny - defended their decision to reprint one of over a dozen caricatures, on the grounds that it was for "illustrative purposes" only. The Iranian Embassy has asked for an official apology. But, the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, while denouncing the cartoons, has stressed it is up to the dailies themselves to choose what to print.
Heavy snowfall in the Czech Republic this week has continued to hamper conditions throughout the country. In Southern Bohemia the Czech Army has been asked to step in to help with snow clearance. South-Eastern Moravia has seen a number of accidents related to heavy snow fall. An elderly man was found dead after having fallen from a roof he had been trying to clear of snow, while another, a 53-year-old man, suffered serious injury when he was hit by a frozen block of ice sliding from a building. This week more than twenty buildings - including storage sites - in the Czech Republic collapsed under the weight of snow. Snowfall in the Czech Republic, as in other parts of Central Europe, has been unusually high.
A much-discussed amendment to the country's media law has passed in the
Lower House. On Friday 88 of 120 MPs present voted in favour, to lay
the foundations for widespread digital broadcasting. Currently, the
country has four nation-wide analogue channels, two belonging to public
broadcaster Czech TV, two to commercial broadcasters TV Nova and Prima.
It is estimated that under the wave of digitalisation as many as 24 new
channels could come into being, both for national as well as regional
audiences. Some digital broadcasting began in the Czech Republic last
year, not covering the whole of the country.
All analogue broadcasters are expected to make the transition to digital between the years 2010 - 2012.
The Lower House on Friday passed an amendment to the bill on civilian aviation that will soften the conditions for the security clearance of pilots and flight attendants. Under the law, pilots and attendants will not have to pass as demanding security vetting carried out by the National Security Office in the future. They will be vetted under more standard procedures by employers themselves. In this way MPs have reacted to demands by civilian pilots who have long sought to abolish Security Office vetting. Pilots objected to the demand of a high number of personal documents including information about their families, short and long foreign trips or contacts with persons living abroad. The NBU has already screened most of the 14,000 pilots and stewardesses who applied for clearance. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president the bill will take effect in July 2006.
In related news, the Czech Republic's counter-intelligence agency, the BIS, has said it does not expect any violence related to the caricatures to ensue on Czech territory. The agency's spokesman Jan Subert said on Friday that Muslims in the Czech Republic had no intention of provoking violence. According to Mr Subert, no special measures had been taken to increase security, although the service is monitoring the situation. Police spokesman, Jiri Vokus meanwhile, has said that while special measures have not been taken elsewhere, security at the Danish Embassy has been heightened. Denmark has seen the brunt of outrage by Muslims offended by the depiction of Mohammed, considered blasphemous in the Islamic tradition.
Czech expatriates who lost Czech citizenship after they left communist Czechoslovakia can still ask for its renewal. President Vaclav Klaus has signed an amendment which abolishes the five-year deadline for the applications which expired last September. Czech legislators decided to amend the law because they expected that some Czech expatriates living in more remote parts of the world may not have learnt about the possibility to apply for the renewal of Czech citizenship.
Defence Minister Karel Kuehnl said on Thursday that the military had
decided to reinforce the protection of Czech soldiers in Afghanistan. The
military is reacting to the outburst of violence in Muslim countries
caused by the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that are
considered disrespectful by Muslims.
Four dozen Czech soldiers are serving in NATO's ISAF units in Northern Afghanistan, along with Germans and Danes. Czech soldiers also serve in international missions in other regions in which Muslim populations prevail - Iraq and the south Serbian province of Kosovo but no problems have been reported.
The Czech Medical Chamber has called on Health Minister David Rath to discuss easing the directive on remunerating medical care. The decree and Mr Rath's policies are opposed by a number of doctors' associations which plan to hold a large protest rally in the centre of Prague later this month. Under the minister's directive, doctors and health-care facilities will receive three percent more money for providing care than they received in the first half of 2005. However, the decree also stipulates strict limits on the use of medicines and certain treatments. If doctors and facilities exceed the limit, they will not be remunerated by health insurance companies and will face penalties.