The lower house of Parliament on Friday abolished health fees, introduced at the beginning of this year as part of the government’s health care reform. The opposition Social Democrats and the Communists, who are strictly against the fees, have found support among a few government coalition deputies, who didn’t take part in the vote. The decision of the lower house still needs to be approved by the Senate, which is likely to reject it. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told journalists on Friday that the government will prepare a new proposal for the debate so that the law would be acceptable for the government coalition. Under the government’s health care reform, Czechs have to pay CZK 30 per visit to the doctor’s, and twice that amount per day spent in hospital.
The government has approved maintaining Czech forces abroad over the period of next two months. The decision was made at an emergency session on Friday, after the lower house of Parliament rejected a proposal on the deployment of Czech troops in foreign missions in 2009. The proposal drafted by the Czech Defense Ministry envisaged reinforcing the country’s military presence in Afghanistan and maintaining 550 servicemen in Kosovo. Although Prime Minister Topolánek offered a number of concessions, the opposition overturned the proposal with the aid of a number of independents. Under the Czech law, the government has the right to maintain Czech forces abroad for a period of 60 days.
The failure to approve Czech participation in foreign missions in 2009 is a breach of the country’s commitment to NATO, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said. Speaking to the journalists after a meeting of the board of the Civic Democrats, Mr Topolánek said that by giving up its fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, the Czech Republic threatens its safety. He also added that it was Jiří Paroubek, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, who was personally responsible for endangering lives of Czech soldiers abroad.
The Christian Democratic Party has called on its deputy Ludvík Hovorka, who contributed to the defeat of the government coalition in the two important votes in the lower house, to give up his mandate by the end of the year. Mr Hovorka, who often voted with the opposition in the past, abstained from the vote on the health care fees and Czech troops in foreign missions.
A new poll suggests Social Democratic Party would win the general election if it was held now with a lead of about 16 percent on the Civic Democrats, the largest party in the governing coalition. According to the survey, conducted by the STEM agency, the Social Democrats would win about 40 percent of the vote, while the ruling Civic Democrats would only gain about 24 percent. The preferences of the Social Democrats have increased by more than 5 percent since October. The Communists came third in the poll, with more than 11 percent of respondents voting for them.
The remaining personnel from the Czech military field hospital in Kabul returned to Prague on Friday, ending the withdrawal of the medical staff from Afghanistan that started in summer. Over the past five months, Czech doctors treated more than 2000 people and performed more than 100 surgeries. The field hospital was set up in 2007 as part of NATO’s peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan.
The Czech Republic’s biggest bank, CSOB, is planning to sack several hundred employees, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported. The bank’s press spokesman has confirmed that the bank is planning to take saving measures that include reducing staff numbers by several percent. There are currently around 10,000 people working in the bank, including the offices in Slovakia. CSOB is the only Czech bank so far which has announced plans to cut down its workforce.
The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, and wife of the Czech president Livia Klausová have taken over the symbolic Bethlehem Light from scouts in St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. The scouts will now distribute the Bethlehem Light by train all over the country. Until Christmas Eve people can come to the cathedral to light their own candles. The Bethlehem Light tradition was established by the Austrian radio station ORF in 1986. In the Czech Republic, this tradition started after the fall of communist regime in 1989.
Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek has said his conditions for a non-aggression pact with the government during the country’s EU presidency are early elections and the ratification of the Lisbon treaty with no strings attached. The Social Democrat leader was referring to the fact that some Civic Democrat deputies had attempted to link the ratification of the Lisbon treaty to the fate of the US radar on Czech soil. Mr. Paroubek said the idea of a barter trade was non-negotiable. His other condition for a non-aggression pact with the government during the country’s EU presidency was a pledge that early elections would take place before the end of 2009. Regular elections are scheduled to take place in June of 2010. Coalition leaders have indicated that Mr. Paroubek is asking too high a price. The leader of the Green Party Martin Bursík said that under the circumstances the government would have to do without a non-aggression pact.