Leaders of the three-party ruling coalition are holding emergency talks in an attempt to diffuse a row that threatens to split the center-left cabinet. The two month old coalition government is up against its first serious crisis following Parliament's rejection of proposed flood-related tax hikes last Friday. The proposed tax-reform fell through when Freedom Union deputy Hana Marvanova broke ranks with the coalition to honor an election pledge not to raise taxes. The embarrassing one-vote defeat has underlined the fragility of the present ruling coalition and led to emergency talks on a Cabinet reshuffle. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has called on the three Freedom Union ministers to resign and hinted that he may decide to form a minority government with the Christian Democrats that would rely on tacit support from the Communist Party. President Havel, who is due to leave on an official visit to the United States on Tuesday, is meeting the three party leaders on Monday evening in a last minute effort to help resolve the crisis.
Two former high ranking communist party officials are on trial for their part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Milous Jakes, former general secretary of the Czechoslovak communist party and Jozef Lenart, former communist prime minister, face charges of treason for attempting to legalize the Soviet led invasion through the formation of a "workers' government" which would have replaced the existing government. The proposal was rejected by the former Czechoslovak president Ludvik Svoboda . Both officials, now in their 80s, plead innocent of the charges leveled against them. Mr. Lenart said in his defense that he had been informed about the plan to form a workers' government by Soviet embassy officials and had merely relayed the proposal to then President Svoboda. The court case has generated enormous media interest.
In a related development Hana Marvanova on Monday resigned from the post of deputy speaker of Parliament. She did so under pressure from her own party, the Freedom Union, after jeopardizing its position in the ruling coalition. Although the party has asked Mrs Marvanova to resign her deputy post in Parliament as well, she refuses to do so on the grounds that as deputy she is answerable to her electorate and must abide by her election promises .
The governing three-party coalition is likely to continue, but
with a reduced role in cabinet for the right-of-centre Freedom
Union, the party's deputy leader Robert Kolar said
on Sunday. The coalition was rocked on Friday, when the Freedom Union's
Hana Marvanova voted against a government tax bill, and then refused to
give up her seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The prime minister and leader
of the Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, has been holding talks
with the chairman of the Freedom Union, Ivan Pilip, and the leader
of the Christian Democrats, Cyril Svoboda, to try and find a way out
of the current crisis.
The coalition has a majority of one in the 200-seat lower house, and the Freedom Union currently have three ministerial seats. Mr Kolar said his party were likely to lose one or two seats in cabinet. It had appeared on Saturday that Prime Minister Spidla would attempt to form a minority coalition with the Christian Democrats alone.
The Czech racing driver Tomas Enge has won the Formula 3000 championship, after finishing first in the Formula 3000 Grand Prix in Italy on Saturday. However, Mr Enge may be stripped of the title in two week's time, if motor racing's governing body punishes him for failing a drug test after the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. Traces of cannabis were found in his blood after the race.
Two Czech soldiers serving with the KFOR operation have been killed in an accident involving an armoured personnel carrier in Kosovo. Three other Czech soldiers were injured in Saturday afternoon's crash and were taken to hospital in Pristina. The Czech general staff refused to release further details about the accident, which is now being investigated.
Hana Marvanova has said she will remain a member of the Freedom Union and the party's parliamentary group, despite the fact that party figures had put pressure on her to give up her seat in order to save the three-party coalition. Mrs Marvanova announced on Saturday that she was stepping down as one of the lower house's deputy chairs.
The Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, is
attempting to form a two-party minority coalition government
with the Christian Democrats, after a coalition of the two parties and the
right of centre Freedom Union collapsed on Friday. Freedom Union MP Hana
Marvanova brought about the crisis, when she voted against a
government tax bill aimed at raising money to cover the costs of the
recent floods. The bill was defeated by one vote. Mr Spidla said
that the three-party coalition could only continue if Mrs Marvanova gave
up her seat in the Chamber of Deputies, which she refused to do. On
Saturday the prime minister said he would probably announce ministers to
replace the three outgoing Freedom Union members of the cabinet on Monday.
The three party coalition had been formed after elections in June and had a majority of one in the lower house. The Christian Democrats have said they would prefer to reach an agreement with the Freedom Union, under which the latter party would support a minority Social Democrat-Christian Democrat government. Meanwhile, Communist Party deputy chairman Miloslav Ransdorf said his party would support such a government on condition that it placed an emphasis on social policy and economic growth.
Some Freedom Union MPs have called on Hana Marvanova to give up her post in parliament after she voted against the governing coalition, Mrs Marvanova herself said after Friday's dramatic vote, adding that she had not made any decisions regarding her future. She said she had voted on the basis of the policies for which she had been elected. Mrs Marvanova, one of the deputy chairs of the lower house, stepped down as leader of the Freedom Union after June's elections.
The police have arrested three men for allegedly trying to sell the Czech-produced plastic explosive Semtex. The men were caught in possession of 11 kilogrammes of the explosive and five fuses at a motorway rest stop in central Bohemia on Thursday night. Semtex is produced by a company called Explosia, which is based near the east Bohemian town of Pardubice.