Voting has ended in the first round of the weekend's Senate elections in a poll marked by widespread voter apathy. Officials said just 24 percent of people had bothered to vote - the lowest turnout since the upper house was created six years ago. The Senate is highly unpopular among the public, with most people seeing it as irrelevant. The low turnout was also due to the long weekend, which many Czechs are spending at their country cottages.
TV Nova director Vladimir Zelezny, the only candidate to win in the first round, has said he will stay on as head of the popular television station. Mr Zelezny, who won the Znojmo constituency with just under 51 percent of the vote, told reporters he was capable of handling both jobs at the same time. Mr Zelezny was the most controversial candidate in this year's elections. He is being prosecuted for a number of fraud offences, including damaging the interests of a creditor and tax evasion. Some claim he sought public office in a bid to gain immunity from prosecution.
A third of the Senate's 81 seats are being contested, but only one candidate was elected in the first round. The remaining 26 seats will be decided by a runoff next weekend. The main opposition Civic Democrats made the strongest showing, sending 19 candidates into the second round. They were followed by the ruling Social Democrats. The Senate has little real power, as vetoes can be overridden by the lower house. But its consent is crucial for changes to the constitution, and the elections will influence who is to succeed President Vaclav Havel in February.
The only incident in an otherwise uneventful first round occurred in Brno, when a member of the electoral commission died of a heart attack minutes before the polling booth was due to open on Saturday morning. Doctors were unable to save the 75-year-old man, who collapsed shortly after arriving at the polling booth. The chief electoral officer said voting had began on time.
The only senator elected in the first round was Vladimir Zelezny, head of the country's hugely popular television station TV Nova. Early results from the Znojmo constituency showed Mr Zelezny had received just over 50 percent of the vote. Elsewhere, candidates for the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats appear to have made the strongest showings, followed by the ruling Social Democrats.
Foreign ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovakia have expressed caution at a French-German agreement aimed at settling agriculture issues with European Union candidates. The agreement was billed in Brussels as a solution to the dispute over reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. It calls for a phase-in of farm subsidies after enlargement in 2004 and a subsidy freeze starting in 2007. But Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, following talks in Prague with Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan, said the agreement was merely "a basis for further negotiation" and a possible step toward resolving the issue.
Voting has ended in the first round of the Senate elections, in a poll marked by low turnout. Officials said only 30 percent of the electorate had bothered to vote in the first round, held on Friday and Saturday. A third of the Senate's 81 seats are being contested, in a vote which will help to choose a successor to President Vaclav Havel. The Senate has little real power, as vetoes can be overridden by the lower house. But its consent is crucial for changes to the constitution and its members elect a president along with 200 lower house deputies. Most Czechs see the Senate as irrelevant, and turnout has also been low in past elections.
The only incident in an otherwise uneventful first round occurred in Brno, when a member of the electoral commission died of a heart attack minutes before the polling booth was due to open. Doctors were unable to save the 75-year-old man, who collapsed shortly after arriving on Saturday morning. The chief electoral officer said the polling booth had opened on time.
Senate elections that could end up testing the ruling coalition's slim majority in the upper chamber have gotten underway: polls opened at two o'clock Friday. The first round of voting takes place this Friday and Saturday, with the second round scheduled for November 1st and 2nd. In all a third of the 81 senatorial seats are being decided in districts from around the country in what is a two-year rotating system. 168 candidates are taking part. So far polls have suggested that as much as fifty percent of eligible voters may cast their votes. The ruling coalition must secure 16 of 41 seats it currently holds if it hopes to maintain at least a one-vote majority in the Senate, but both the leading opposition Civic Democrats and the Communist party are seen as potentially difficult contenders.
The management of Spolana, a chemical factory north of Prague, has rejected the claim that highly toxic substances leaked into the environment when the plant was flooded last August. According to a report published by the Arnika environment group the floodwaters released an unspecified amount of highly toxic dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls into the river Elbe. Arnika said that water samples it took from the Elbe at the time were found to contain traces of these substances. Spolana acknowledged that these substances were stored at the plant, although their production was stopped many years ago, but said that they were encased in hermetically sealed, heat-resistant, waterproof containers and ruled out the possibility that they could have leaked. Arnika has asked the Czech Inspection Office to investigate the matter.
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