Polling stations at Czech embassies and consulates opened for Czech citizens living abroad on Thursday. This year's election is the first time Czech ex-pats have been allowed to take part in elections in their home country. Polling booths in the Czech Republic will not open until Friday afternoon, but Czechs living abroad are being asked to vote a day earlier to eradicate problems with the time difference, especially in the Americas. Czech embassies and consulates have registered minimal interest in the elections, and only a few hundred Czech citizens living abroad are expected to vote. According to unofficial estimates there are about 70,000 Czech citizens living abroad, many of whom have criticised the fact that they have to travel to distant embassies rather than cast their votes by post.
A power-generating turbine at the first reactor of the Temelin nuclear plant was shut down again on Thursday morning only hours after the power station was reconnected to the national grid on Wednesday evening. The plant had been shut down on Monday because of the same problem. A spokesman has said technicians will replace insulation in the electric part of the turbine, adding that the latest stoppage did not affect the nuclear reactors. Since the controversial plant was launched in October 2000, it has been plagued with technical faults and has been shut down dozens of times. The shutdown comes just days after government regulators approved a request to graduate the first unit from the "testing" stage of operation to the "trial" stage. Last month, regulators approved the test start-up of Unit 2.
The Temelin nuclear plant was shut down on Tuesday night because of an apparent problem with a power-generating turbine. A spokesman said technicians were investigating a possible leak in the Unit 1 turbine, which has been plagued with technical problems since the plant was launched in October 2000. The spokesman said the latest hitch posed no danger to the public and did not affect the plant's two nuclear reactors. The shutdown comes just two days after government regulators approved a request to graduate the first unit from the "testing" stage of operation to the "trial" stage. Last month, regulators approved the test start-up of Unit 2.
Germany's conservative candidate for chancellor, Edmund Stoiber, has said the abolition of the so-called Benes decrees is not a condition for Czech admission to the European Union, but the two issues are connected. Mr Stoiber, leader of the opposition Christian Social Union party, said he hoped the Czech Republic would start dealing with history more openly after the elections. Some two and a half million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945, under decrees signed by President Eduard Benes. Politicians in Germany and Austria have called for the decrees to be abolished before the Czech Republic is allowed to join the EU.
With Czech general elections set for the end of this week the opposition Coalition, made-up of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-DEU, has outlined terms important to its parties in possible post-election negotiations- negotiations which will almost certainly be required to form what is expected to be a coalition government in the Czech Republic. The Coalition's terms include a commitment to move on several issues including the fight against corruption, improvement in social support for the family, and opening up of Czech universities to a greater student body. Another important term outlined on Tuesday in possible cabinet dealings was a clear pro-European Union stance.
In other election news, Czech embassies around the world are getting ready for the vote. This year's ballot will be the first in which Czechs abroad will be taking part, although far less registered than originally expected. The embassy in Dublin, for example, has estimated that only around 50 Czech expatriates in Ireland will cast their ballot, while the number of Czechs expected to vote in London has proven more difficult to gauge.
The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel said on Monday that EU entry for the Czech Republic and other candidate countries in 2004 is an ambitious but realistic goal. Speaking at a conference in Vienna, Mr Schuessel was reacting to scepticism in his country and elsewhere towards the Czech Republic and other candidates being ready to be part of the first batch of countries to join the EU by 2004. Although accession talks come to a close by the end of the year, most candidate countries still have reforms ahead of them with the most painful being that in the financial sector as well as unemployment, Mr Schuessel noted.
The State Authority for Nuclear Safety has given the green light on Monday for the resumption of test operation of the first reactor of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. The activation resulted in new protests from Czech and Austrian environmentalists as well as representatives of Austrian parties who claimed allowing the reactor's trial operation after 31 defects and 200 days of temporary shutdowns was irresponsible. Anti-nuclear activists have also announced that they have found new important evidence that proved the Temelin plant was unsafe, calling for it to be shut down immediately.
Inspired by the U.S. Republican Party's pre-election campaign, the Czech Civic Democratic Party has began using the telephone as a means of gaining voters. On Sunday, several Czech citizens were surprised to hear the voice of Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus on the telephone, warning them against the dangers of socialism and urging citizens not to vote for left-of-centre parties at this weekend's election. However, instead of having a positive effect on potential voters, many of those called said the method of campaigning was an invasion of privacy, saying they did not like being held on the line by automatic messages, telling them who to vote for.
The European Union's commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen has warned that a second rejection of the EU's Nice Treaty in an Irish referendum later this year would lead to a delay in the bloc's plans to expand to the east. Mr Verheugen told reporters a second "no" vote would cause extremely serious problems for which he had no solutions. He said the EU had no "plan B" should ratification fail. Up to 10 countries - including the Czech Republic - are hoping to join the EU in 2004. The Nice Treaty implements reforms the EU says are needed in order to admit more states. Last June's referendum in Ireland - the only EU member to require a referendum on the issue - rejected the treaty, amid fears of a threat to Ireland's neutrality and concern that smaller states would lose out.
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