A new opinion poll released on Thursday shows a large majority in favour of electing a successor to President Vaclav Havel in a direct vote, as opposed to the current parliamentary system. The survey, carried out by the STEM agency, said 85 percent of respondents were in favour of electing the head of state directly. When asked who should succeed Mr Havel in February, most people said Otakar Motejl, the country's ombudsman. Mr Motejl, one of four candidates nominated by the ruling Social Democrats, was followed by Senate chairman Petr Pithart and Civic Democrat leader Vaclav Klaus. The Civic Democrats recently launched an initiative to change the Constitution to allow a direct vote.
U.S. and Czech fighter jets have taken part in a joint training exercise over Czech territory as part of preparations for November's NATO summit in Prague. Thursday's exercise was designed to rehearse an aerial response to a possible terrorist attack during the summit. Czech officials said American F-16 fighters and Czech MiG-21 jets had participated in the exercise, which simulated the shooting down of a hijacked airliner and an attack on a nuclear power station. The summit, on November 21 and 22, will bring together heads of state and military leaders from 46 countries.
The Czech Republic took a step towards letting its citizens decide on EU membership on Thursday, after the lower house of parliament approved a bill to hold a referendum in the second quarter of next year. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily because the upper house drafted the bill. The bill was approved by a strong majority, with 180 of the 182 deputies present in the 200-seat lower house voting in favour.
President Vaclav Havel and fellow leaders of EU candidate countries have appealed to the people of Ireland to vote "yes" to the EU's enlargement treaty, saying rejection would be a "great disappointment". In a joint statement issued ahead of Saturday's referendum in Ireland, the presidents of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic said rejecting the Nice Treaty - which introduces reforms crucial to the enlargement process - would squander a historic opportunity. Ireland, the only EU member required to hold a referendum on the issue, rejected the treaty last year in a vote marked by low turnout and confusion over what the agreement would mean.
The residents of Prague have been warned of possible clashes between demonstrators and riot police during next month's NATO summit. Officials said foreign visitors could also expect long waits at passport control on the country's borders. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said he was confident police would be ready to protect the thousands of summit-goers, including military chiefs and heads of state from 46 countries, who will be attending the meeting on November 21 and 22. Around 12,000 demonstrators are expected to arrive in Prague, and Mr Gross said the same number of policemen would be deployed to maintain order.
The Civic Democratic Party says that work on a constitutional amendment that would enable the President to be elected by the people will be ready by the end of this week. The center right Civic Democrats , who were originally against direct presidential elections, are now pushing to get such an amendment approved since they believe it will increase their candidate's chances of winning the elections. Although such an amendment would now receive overwhelming support in Parliament it is not clear whether it could be approved in time for the presidential elections in January.
Preparations are underway for the upcoming NATO summit to be held from November 21st to November 22nd in the Czech capital Prague. Interior minister Stanislav Gross told journalists on Tuesday that work was progressing according to schedule. Mr. Gross said he would take full responsibility and resign if the security operation failed in any way. Over 1,000 specially trained officers will be protecting the delegates during their stay in the city . An estimated 12,000 protesters are expected to converge on the Czech capital for the two day summit and at least 12,000 police officers will be out on the streets to deal with street riots . The army will also be helping out with over 2,000 soldiers assigned to patrol-duty at Prague's main international airport, hotels and the conference center where the summit will take place. The authorities have asked Prague inhabitants to restrict their movement around the city over those two days. This is the first NATO summit to be held in a former communist state and as such it presents a major challenge for the local authorities.
Four British football rowdies have been charged with breach of the peace in connection with a brawl at a Prague nightclub. A group of around 40 British football fans on their way to the European qualifier match in Bratislava went on a drinking spree in the Czech capital and got into a brawl at one of Prague's nightclubs. They caused extensive damage and ten of them were detained for questioning by the police. In the Slovak capital Bratislava two British football fans were shot and wounded by private security guards when a group of about 60 fans refused to leave a pub at closing time in the early hours of Saturday. The incident is being investigated. After England's victory in the qualifier match against Slovakia the atmosphere is reported to have calmed down.
Czech negotiators in Brussels say that consultations among EU member states on a common policy with regard to the conditions of the accession agreement for the Czech Republic have moved the talks forward. The competition chapter is expected to be closed at the end of next week and progress is also reported on the controversial agriculture chapter, where EU states have agreed to Czech demands for higher production quotas for sugar and potato starch. On the other hand, the EU states have shown little inclination to increase the number of seats which the Czech Republic will have in the European Parliament. The country has been allotted 20 seats and has complained that countries with a comparable population have at least two more.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and the Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer have agreed to set up a joint team of experts which would debate controversial issues relating to the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia and nuclear energy in general. Since coming to office the Czech Foreign Minister has made concerted efforts to diffuse tension over the Temelin controversy and to de-politicize the issue. The Austrian Environment Minister has expressed appreciation of these efforts, saying that it was important to debate the issue of nuclear energy on broader scale from the point of view of a sustainable energy policy for the whole continent.