News

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Visegrad presidents reject alleged efforts at Schengen zone delay

The presidents of the Visegrad Four (the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) have rejected possible efforts to delay the four countries joining the Schengen zone by the end of 2008. According to some reports, Austria is allegedly seeking a temporary buffer period to delay the abolishment of controls on its borders. Hungary's President Lazslo Soloym called on the governments of the four countries to counter the Austrian position, calling even a temporary delay "unacceptable". By contrast, over the two-day summit the presidents, including the Czech Republic's Vaclav Klaus, agreed their countries were fully ready to join the zone and accept full membership responsibilities.

Havel rejects speculation he might again run for president

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has denied speculation he is being considered by the opposition Social Democrats as a "secret" candidate for next year's presidential elections. In a statement made through his personal secretary on Friday Mr Havel made clear he had not received any offer from the Social Democrats and not discussed the idea with anyone from the party. In the past, Mr Havel - who was the Czech head of state for thirteen years before he stepped down in 2003 - said he had no interest in running for the post of president again. But in an interview earlier this year he indicated he might run if his candidacy sharpened the race. Current incumbent Vaclav Klaus is the only official candidate so far; the opposition Social Democrats have been trying to agree on a contender with a viable chance of challenging the current president.

Film and Television Academy decides on Menzel film for Oscars

The Czech Film and Television Academy has chosen Jiri Menzel's I Served the King of England as the country's entry for the best foreign-language film category in next year's Academy Awards, held in the US. The film, based on the book by same name by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, received the most votes, beating out Secrets by filmmaker Alice Nellis, and Empties by the father-son duo of Zdenek and Jan Sverak. Jiri Menzel is well-known for his films based on Hrabal's work, most famously Closely Watched Trains which won the Best Foreign-Language film Oscar in 1968.

Government preparing information campaign on missile defense

Government representative for missile defense Tomas Klvana has said that the government's campaign on a proposed US radar base in the Czech Republic will be called "Against Missiles", a provocative motto aimed at capturing viewers' attention. According to Mr Klvana, the campaign will look at arguments on both sides of the issue. Czechs will reportedly be able to access information through the internet, DVDs, printed materials, and even face-to-face meetings. The campaign will be put together by a PR agency. The government - which is negotiating with US representatives on the stationing of the radar base - has tentatively backed the idea but the issue will only be decided early in 2008. Surveys have shown that around two-thirds of Czechs remain opposed; the opposition are also against.

Protestors on both side of the radar issue come out in Misov

In related news, two groups of protestors - one led by the Communist Party opposed to a US radar base in the Czech Republic, the other, in favour of the plan, exchanged cat calls on Friday in an organised protest in Misov near Pilsen, close to the proposed radar site. The protest was organised by the Communists but provoked opponents to come out and express their views. Police were on hand to prevent any incidents. Communist representatives and their supporters, wore yellow shirts reading "No to bases", while opponents in favour of the US plan waved their own signs and even US flags.

Czech doctors fail to reach agreement with insurers

Czech doctors were not able to reach agreement on Friday with health insurance companies on payments for their services in 2008; it will now be up to the Health Ministry to make a decision within sixty days. Ladislav Friedrich, vice-president of the Union of Health Insurance Companies, revealed the information to the Czech news agency. The proposed increase in per capita payments, which each general practitioner receives for a registered patient, was opposed by out-patient specialists. The sum was in fact rejected by all physicians who want more money than what health insurers offer them, Mr Friedrich said.

The majority of Czech GPs closed their surgeries in protest against the proposed payments next year on Wednesday. The doctors say the level of money they receive is almost untenable, as they cannot upgrade their surgeries' equipment or improve patients' comfort. GPs now get 36 crowns monthly per capita, but they want 55 crowns. The General Health Insurance Company (VZP) offered them 42 crowns.

Government to discuss pension rise next week

The government will discuss a pension rise next week which would raise monthly pensions by 346 crowns. Currently monthly pensions in the Czech Republic average at 8,722 crowns (the equivalent of around 445 US dollars), a little less than half of the average monthly working wage. The proposal to raise monthly pensions is being put forward by the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Petr Necas. The opposition has criticised the rise as being too low, saying the amount will not be sufficient for pensioners, especially in light of fiscal reforms to be introduced in January.

New Havel play to premiere at Prague's Vinohrady theatre in 2008

According to reports, a new play by former president Vaclav Havel, called The Leaving, will have its world premiere at Prague's Vinohrady theatre. The play is to be directed by David Radok, while Mr Havel's wife Dagmar, an actress by profession, will appear in the lead role, which Mr Havel wrote specifically for her. The agency behind the play, which has signed a contract with Vinohrady theatre, will now pursue the Czech-born US-based actor Jan Triska for another of the leads. The play is expected to premiere in May or June of 2008. The Vinohrady theatre picked up Mr Havel's play after negotiations with Prague's National Theatre met with failure earlier this month.

Stepanek downed by Federer in first match of Davis Cup World Group tie playoff

World No.1 Roger Federer has claimed the first point for the Swiss in Davis Cup action in Prague on Friday after downing Czech Radek Stepanek in four sets. Federer won 6:3, 6:2 in the first two sets, was edged 6:7 in the third, but clinched the last 7:6.

Weather

Mostly clear skies are expected into the weekend, with daytime highs reaching temperatures of around 22 degrees Celsius.