The two presidential candidates, incumbent Václav Klaus and challenger Jan Švejnar, met in a historic televised debate on Tuesday. The hour-long question-and-answer session took place before senators of the opposition Social Democrats. The questions covered political, economic and environmental issues as well as matters of national security and the country’s membership in the European Union. Mr. Klaus said he offered years of experience in the field, his rival Jan Švejnar the ability to consolidate the political scene. It was the one and only time the two candidates came face to face in the month-long election campaign.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has criticized what he described as the “pseudo-American” campaign ahead of next week’s presidential elections. Mr. Topolánek said that the style of campaigning introduced by the Czech-American presidential candidate Jan Švejnar was not suited to the Czech political system where the head of state is elected by both houses of Parliament. Mr. Švejnar has been touring the country, meeting people and holding regular press briefings. He also challenged Václav Klaus to a televised debate, which his rival first refused but later agreed to, saying he did not want to appear “a coward”. In the past presidential candidates have merely presented their views to deputies and senators who elect them in a joint session of Parliament.
The opposition Social Democrats have accused the ruling party of playing mind games and trying to undermine the party’s unity ahead of the elections. Michal Hašek of the Social Democrats said the media had contacted party deputies to inquire about an alleged “list of renegades” who were prepared to break party ranks and vote for Vaclav Klaus in next week’s presidential election. The said list was to have been compiled by the ruling Civic Democratic Party which has nominated Mr. Klaus for the post. Deputy Hašek said he was certain that all Social Democrats deputies and senators would support the party’s own nominee Jan Švejnar and suggested that the Civic Democrats were merely creating a smoke screen to cover up the fact that they had “bought” Christian Democrat votes in return for an agreement on the restitution of church property.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is to meet with US President George Bush in the White House on February 27th to discuss Czech-American cooperation in missile defense. According to a White House statement the talks will also focus on NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq in which the Czech Republic is actively involved. The US wants to deploy part of its missile defense system in Central Europe with a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland. Neither country has as yet reached a final decision on the matter. Although the Czech government supports the plan, the opposition and the public are vehemently opposed to it.
If the Czech Republic agrees to host a US radar base on its territory Czech firms could make a profit of up 1,6 billion crowns, the head of the US Agency for Missile Defense Patrick O’Reilly said at a seminar in Prague on Tuesday. Mr. O’Reilly said that Washington was prepared to sign an agreement with Prague under which it would commit to using Czech firms in the process of construction and maintenance. The construction process would take around four years, which would be followed by a trial period. The radar would not become fully operational until 2014 or 2015.
Marek Podlaha, formerly head of an NGO assisting Romany employment, is to become head of a government agency aimed at fighting the exclusion of Romanies from society and the creation of Roma ghettoes. The agency is to start work in February and will be answerable directly to Džamila Stehlíková, the minister in charge of human rights and ethnic minorities.
Close to 500 homosexual couples have entered into same-sex partnerships since a law enabling so-called gay marriages came into force in July of 2006. According to statistics 353 male couples and 134 lesbian couples entered into a same-sex partnership, 43 of them were foreign nationals who came here specifically to tie the knot. Up until 1961 homosexuality was considered a crime punishable by law. The law on gay marriage was rejected seven times by Parliament before finally winning approval.
The vast majority of Czechs are convinced that the health care system needs reform but more than half of them don’t approve of the reforms being implemented, according to the outcome of a poll conducted by the STEM agency late this month. Out of 77 percent of respondents who advocated the need for reform 40 percent said that the changes introduced by the centre-right government on January 1 would not improve the quality of health care in the Czech Republic. Among other things, the reforms introduced direct fees for medical services with Czechs paying 30 crowns for a visit to the doctor, 60 crowns for a day in hospital and 90 crowns for emergency treatment.
Czech team Viktoria Plzeň said on Monday it had signed Brazilian offensive midfielder Paul Rodriguez Da Silva from second division Czech outfit Třinec. The club said it signed an agreement until mid-2010 with the 21-year-old, who previously played with the Sao Paulo clubs, Palmeiras, Tiete and Assisense as well as Parana. No financial details were given.
Former president Václav Havel’s state of health has improved greatly, and he is expected to be out of hospital by the end of the week. The head of Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine made the announcement to journalists on Monday evening. Mr Havel was hospitalized on January 19 with chronic bronchitis and a heart problem. Due to his hospitalization, he missed the preview of Citizen Havel - a documentary film made in his honour.