A public referendum on who should be the Social Democratic Party's candidate in the upcoming presidential elections has swung in favour of the former Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Over 25,000 people took part in the referendum, which was open to the general public. Milos Zeman topped the list winning close to half of the votes. The former justice minister Jaroslav Bures came second, followed by the Ombudsman Otakar Motejl. Although the Social Democrats said they would abide by public opinion, there is now controversy within the party over whether Milos Zeman would make a suitable presidential candidate. The party leadership is to vote on the matter within the next few days.
The Czech Republic will not meet its goal to place the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in full operation by the end of the year. According to the state run power utility CEZ technical setbacks have forced it to postpone the launching of full operation by three months. The plant has been at the centre of controversy since its start up in October 2000. Nuclear opponents in Austria and Germany claim it is unsafe and want to see it scrapped. The Czech government maintains that the plant fully adheres to international nuclear safety norms.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla is to attend a meeting of the Visegrad group in the Hungarian capital Budapest over the weekend. The heads of government of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are expected to focus largely on the final stage of accession talks with the European Union. The Visegrad group countries have been negotiating the conditions for entry separately, but on occasion they coordinate their stands in order to bolster their positions. This weekend they are expected to thrash out Denmark's offer of last minute concessions regarding financing.
The leader of the opposition Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus has become the first official candidate for the post of Czech president, with his party submitting his candidacy Thursday. Mr Klaus's candidacy was confirmed by the lower house's election committee chairman Pavel Hojda, who said the committee would discuss his nomination next week. The next Czech president, after Vaclav Havel steps down, will be elected by the both houses of parliament - the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with the first round of the presidential elections taking place on January 15th, 2003.
The general director of the country's monopoly telecom operator, Cesky Telecom, has been sacked, following the collapse of plans to privatise the company. General Director Premysl Klima was dismissed at a board meeting on Wednesday. The privatisation of Cesky Telecom, which controls most of the country's fixed lines and also the leading mobile operator Eurotel, was one of the few remaining sell-offs of the post-communist era. However the deal fell through on Tuesday, when potential investor Deutsche Bank failed to meet the share price demanded by TelSource, which holds a 27-percent stake in the company.
A new opinion poll released on Wednesday shows that more than 60 percent of the Czech public support their country's entry to the European Union and are satisfied with NATO membership. The poll, carried out by the STEM agency in November, found that 64 percent of Czechs would vote for joining the EU in a referendum, while 68 percent supported NATO membership. The Czech Republic was admitted to NATO in March 1999, together with Poland and Hungary, and is among the 10 leading candidates for EU membership.
The Czech-born film director Karel Reisz, renowned for his critically acclaimed masterpiece "The French Lieutenant's Woman," has died in London at the age of 76. Mr Reisz, who came to England as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, became one of the leaders of the New Wave in British-film making. Mr Reisz was one of the hundreds of children saved by the Nazis by the British diplomat Nicholas Winton, arriving in England at the age of 12. Towards the end of the war he flew as a pilot with the Royal Air Force.
A successor to Mr Havel will definitely be elected under the current parliamentary system, after a final bid to allow a direct vote failed on Wednesday. The lower house of parliament rejected a bill to introduce direct presidential elections in the first reading. A new president will be elected in a joint session of the two houses of parliament on January 15th. Mr Havel steps down on February 2nd, after twelve years in the post.
The Czech Republic has welcomed an offer of financial concessions to European Union candidates. The country's chief negotiator for EU entry, Pavel Telicka, described the offer as an improvement on previous proposals. However he added that his country would continue to fight for better entry terms before December's EU summit in Copenhagen. Denmark, which currently holds the revolving presidency of the EU, unveiled a plan on Monday to improve financial terms of accession for ten candidates expected to join in mid 2004. The plan was heavily criticised by several EU members including Germany.
The Czech Republic's chief negotiator on accession to the European Union, Pavel Telicka, has expressed satisfaction with an offer of increased finances to applicant countries put forward by Denmark, which currently holds the EU presidency. Mr Telicka described the offer as positive, but said the Czech Republic would still continue to fight for better accession terms between now and the mid-December Copenhagen EU summit. Germany and some other EU countries are opposed to the Danish proposals, which are aimed at appeasing farmers in candidate states. The Czech Republic is one of ten countries hoping to join the Union in 2004.
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