News

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Social Democrats call on MPs to give up mandates

The Social Democratic Party has called on two rebel MPs to give up their mandates in the lower house. The party took the step a day after deputies Milos Melcak and Michal Pohanka confirmed they would allow the country's newly-appointed government a chance of winning Friday's confidence vote. The deputies appeared alongside the prime minister in a surprise press conference on Tuesday, saying that their main motive was to bring an end to the country's prolonged political crisis. Both confirmed they would absent themselves from Friday's vote, theoretically tipping the scales in the government's favour. In return they gained a number of concessions including a promise by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek that his cabinet would consult with the opposition on major reforms.

The Social Democrats immediately expressed anger over the developments: party leader Jiri Paroubek has called the men "traitors" and warned his party would file lawsuits against them on the suspicion of corruption.

Paroubek criticises rebel MPs, president, promises "tough" opposition

In related news, Mr Paroubek admitted in an on-line interview on Wednesday that following Friday's vote the Social Democrats will be tough in the opposition in the lower house. In the interview Mr Paroubek repeated earlier criticisms but also extended blame to the country's president, Vaclav Klaus. Mr Paroubek criticised the president for twice naming Mirek Topolanek prime minister in the efforts to form a government, one that Mr Paroubek has said, following Tuesday's events, would now be founded on blackmail and betrayal. He said that he would recommend Social Democrat deputies not to back Mr Klaus in his expected bid for re-election next year.

Vlcek remains speaker following brief lower house session

The session of the lower house formally lasted just fifteen minutes on Wednesday with Social Democrat MP Miloslav Vlcek staying on for the time being as the chamber's speaker. Originally, the Social Democrats had hoped to pave the way for Mr Vlcek's resignation and subsequent re-election ahead of Friday's confidence vote. Mr Vlcek is bound by a public promise he made to step down ahead of a possible third attempt to form a government. His subsequent re-election would have guaranteed that as speaker he would have been responsible for appointing the next prime minister designate, in the event that the government's failed to secure a majority.

As it stands now the current coalition led by the Civic Democrats is now expected to win its confidence vote on Friday. It is unclear how long Mr Vlcek will now remain as speaker of the lower house, or whether the Social Democrats will push for their leader Jiri Paroubek to replace him.

Civic Democrats' executive body praises negotiators, backs government proposal

The Civic Democratic Party's executive body has assessed a report by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek outlining preparation for Friday's confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies, and praised steps taken by party negotiators. The news was made public Wednesday evening by the party's first deputy chairman Pavel Bem. On Wednesday the body also approved the policy statement of the coalition government, including a number of last-minute changes, concessions to the two rebel Social Democrat MPs who have agreed to leave the chamber during Friday's vote.

The development marks a turn-around in fortunes for the prime minister who faced criticism from some Civic Democrats in recent weeks. Mr Bem stressed that Mr Topolanek had broad support from the party leadership. He himself was one of Mr Topolanek's more prominent critics concerning efforts at forming a coalition government with the Christian Democrats and the Greens. On Wednesday Mr Bem expressed confidence all Civic Democrats would vote in favour of the centre-right cabinet during Friday's vote.

Poll: Bem, Parkanova most popular politicians

A new poll released by the STEM agency has suggested that Prague Mayor Pavel Bem and Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova currently top public popularity. Mrs Parkanova and Mr Bem were rated favourably by 63 percent of those queried, followed by Jiri Cunek, the head of the Christian Democratic Party, and Martin Bursik, leader of the Greens. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was seventh on the list with 38 percent favourability, while Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek was tenth. Communist Party leader Vojtech Filip rounded out the bottom of the list, finishing twelfth.

Police call off extra security at church schools

Police have called off extra security teams at church schools in Prague: those had been under tight scrutiny since last week, after police received an anonymous bomb threat. A spokesman made the announcement on Wednesday, saying that the schools would still be checked by regular patrols. Last Thursday experts labelled as "very serious" a bomb threat targeting the capital's forty or so church schools leading to heightened security measures and extensive searches at school premises. Many parents were warned ahead of time to keep their children at home. No evidence of a bomb was uncovered.

Court rules hospital should apologise to sterilized woman

The AFP news agency has reported that a court in the region of Olomouc has confirmed that a Czech hospital in the east of the country should apologise to a 24-year-old Romany woman for having sterilized her without her consent. At the same time, the court also ruled she is not entitled to compensation. The landmark case is the first of around eighty complaints submitted by Romany women who say they were sterilized without permission. The latest ruling confirmed an earlier decision in November against which both the hospital and the Romany woman, Helena Ferencikova, appealed.

Mrs Ferencikova was sterilized in 2001 at a hospital without consent after giving birth to her second child. Hospital doctors said that it carried out in the interests of the patient's health and that she had signed a letter of agreement. But, Mrs Ferencikova has said she was only given the document to sign when she was already in the throes of birthing pains.

She had been asking for compensation of one million crowns, (the equivalent of around 45,000 US dollars). The court has sought guidance from the Supreme Court on whether or not she may entitled to financial compensation for moral damages suffered.

Government approves field hospital to be deployed in Afghanistan

The Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova has stated that the government has now approved the deployment of the 6th field hospital to Afghanistan. The unit will operate at Kabul airport. If both houses of parliament approve the mission, hospital personnel will leave for Afghanistan in March. The sending of the hospital unit with around 70 personnel for one year will cost 150 million crowns (the equivalent of around 7 million US dollars) to be covered by the Defence Ministry budget. The ministry says that NATO could defray a part of the costs. The mission to Afghanistan was requested by NATO last year. The unit has been deployed in that country before and has also operated in Iraq.

Vaidisova through to 3rd round at Australian Open

Young Czech tennis star Nicole Vaidisova has made it through to the third round at the Australian Open, easily defeating Venezuelan player Milagros Sequera (ranked 95th in the world)6:2, 6:1. The match lasted less than one hour.

In the men's competition Radek Stepanek was two sets to nil down before he battled back against fellow compatriot Lukas Dlouhy to make it to the third round.

Weather

Showers are expected throughout much of the rest of the week, with daytime temperatures in Prague reaching highs between 5 to 9 degrees Celsius.