Czech hospital angered by unauthorised visit to see ailing president

Police in the Czech Republic will stop unauthorised hospital visits to the country’s ailing president, Miloš Zeman, after doctors treating him in intensive care complained that a leading political figure had called on him without their knowledge or permission.

Prague’s central military hospital launched an internal inquiry after the speaker of the country’s parliament, Radek Vondráček, revealed he had seen Zeman on Thursday and described him as being in good spirits.

He said Zeman had signed an order that the new parliament elected in last week’s general election, which resulted in a surprise defeat for the populist prime minister, Andrej Babiš, meet on 8 November, the latest possible date allowed under the Czech constitution.

Zeman, 77, was admitted to hospital last Sunday immediately after meeting Babiš, his close ally, whom he previously vowed to strive to keep in office even if the election left opposition blocs better placed to form a new coalition government, the very scenario created by last week’s poll.

The president’s health has since become a subject of intense speculation, prompting opponents to urge parliament to declare him unfit and assume his powers to initiate the formation of a new administration, as allowed by the constitution.

Vondráček, a member of Babiš’s Action for Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) party, said he had met Zeman in the presence of Vratislav Mynář, the chancellor of the president’s office, which has been accused of concealing the true state of Zeman’s health.

“We talked for a while. The president communicated normally, he even joked,” Vondráček told journalists. “Of course he is sick, he is weak. But I really had a normal conversation with him … He was really in a good mood. He was laughing, joking.”

News of the visit brought an angry rebuke from the hospital, which upbraided Mynář for admitting Vondráček “unexpectedly and without the knowledge of the attending physician”. It pointedly distanced itself from Vondráček’s comments on the president’s health and said details on his condition were limited to his immediate family and associates.

“[The visit] will be investigated as part of the hospital’s internal investigation,” a spokeswoman told Seznam Zprávy, a Czech news website.

On Friday, Czech police vowed to prevent a repetition. “The police of the Czech Republic will comply with the request @uvn_praha [the central military hospital] and … will not allow direct contact of the president of the republic with any person who has not received the prior consent of the attending physician to visit,” the force announced on Twitter.

The hospital also cast doubt on statements purporting to disclose Zeman’s hospital diet and apparently designed to play down the seriousness of his condition.

Jiří Ovčáček – the presidential spokesman, whose credibility has come under scrutiny following a series of seemingly outlandish statements – was ridiculed after tweeting that the president lunched on apricot buns and ordered wine sausage with mashed potatoes for the following day. The message was accompanied by pictures of the two dishes.

The hospital spokeswoman said they were “not a traditional hospital diet”.

Czech media have reported that Zeman is suffering from hepatic encephalopathy, a condition linked to serious liver failure. The hospital has not disclosed his diagnosis, saying it has not received Zeman’s permission.

On Thursday, his wife, Ivana Zemanová, 56, denounced speculation about her husband’s health as “very unethical” in a statement to reporters at Prague castle, site of the official presidential residence. Surveys have shown 87% of Czechs want more information on Zeman’s condition.

Police later said they would investigate an anonymous complaint filed to the Czech prosecutor’s office claiming that the signature on the document convening parliament was forged and did not resemble Zeman’s handwriting. Vondráček denied the allegation.

They also issued a tweet flatly contradicting a claim by Vondráček that officers had accompanied him on his visit to Zeman. “The police of the Czech Republic did not accompany the president of the chamber of deputies to the president of the republic,” the tweet read. “The chairman visited the president, accompanied by the castle chancellor, who was already in place at the time.”

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