Several members of the Social Democratic Party's Central Executive Committee, attempting to obtain the names of potential presidential candidates being discussed by the three-party governing coalition, were further left in the dark Saturday when Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists that talks between the parties, as well as potential candidates, were still underway. No definite names have been decided as yet. The governing coalition, which includes the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union, is trying to agree on a joint candidate in upcoming Czech presidential elections. Two attempts in January ended in stalemate, failing to find a successor to Vaclav Havel, who steps down on February 2nd. In the previous attempts the Social Democrats fielded their two candidates, neither of whom made it past the first round.
Czech artist Jiri David's 'Neon Heart' that adorned Prague Castle for the last several months has been turned off as planned, to coincide with Vaclav Havel's final days as president of the Czech Republic. The large neon heart, echoing Mr Havel's signature trademark and inspired by Mr Havel's ideals, was turned off on Friday evening. The heart had dominated Prague's historic skyline provoking almost endless debate among the Czech public over its artistic value. There was more 'controversy' on the heart's 'final day', when Greenpeace representatives hung a banner near the structure protesting possible military action against Iraq.
The head of Prague's Federation for Tram Drivers Antonin Dub has announced that Prague tram drivers plan to go on strike in protest of lower salaries. On Saturday around fifty federation members met to try and decide the issue, although no information has yet been released on when the strike will take place, or how long it might last. Prague's tram drivers are upset by the fact they do not earn as much as bus drivers in the city, even though both groups are employed by a single transit authority. A comparative study commissioned by the Transit Authority and Town Hall, comparing job difficulty and skills, ranked tram drivers lower on the scale, determining a difference in pay.
Three days before he steps down as President, Vaclav Havel has come under fire over his public support for United States policy on Iraq. Mr Havel added his name to a list of seven European prime ministers who published an article supporting the U.S. The article, published throughout the world on Thursday, has highlighted deep divisions in Europe over the issue. Several politicians have criticised Mr Havel for failing to consult the government before signing the document. The Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, said he himself did not sign it because the country's position on Iraq was already clear.
The Czech Republic has sent 70 soldiers to Kuwait, bringing the country's anti chemical and biological weapons unit up to a full contingent of 360. The unit has been based in Kuwait since March, working alongside U.S. troops. The U.S sent an official request to the Czech government in January, asking for the anti-chemical unit to be boosted. The Czech parliament approved the request, as well as a measure saying that in the case of an Iraqi attack using weapons of mass destruction, the unit could respond without a new U.N. resolution.
The leaders of the three parties in the ruling coalition, the Social and Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, are to meet on Friday morning to discuss a common presidential candidate capable of gaining enough votes in both chambers of the Czech parliament. The leaders of all the parliamentary parties are expected to meet next Wednesday to agree on further strategy as to the election of a new Czech president. They should decide on the date of the third attempt to elect a new head of state after two inconclusive votes took place earlier this month.
President Vaclav Havel has joined seven other European leaders in signing an article published in major European dailies on Thursday supporting US President George W. Bush's stance on Iraq. In the letter, initiated by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain said the Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represented a clear threat to world security. Among the signatories, Vaclav Havel is the only president, the rest are prime ministers of their respective countries. The representatives of France and Germany did not sign the article.
The leaders from the governing coalition parties the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union have met again to try to agree on a joint candidate in the Czech presidential elections. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on Wednesday that several names were being discussed but refused to give further information, saying the parties would continue talks. Christian Democrat Jan Kasal did say that possible candidates included non-party members. The coalition talks are aimed at trying to find a candidate with a chance of finding enough support in both houses of parliament to be elected as the successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel. Under the current system parliament twice failed to elect a new president in January; it is widely considered that failure in a third attempt would lead to a change in the voting system to direct presidential elections.
A new poll released by the CVVM agency on Wednesday has shown that two thirds of the Czech population disapproves of the curreent effort by the US and her allies to lead a possible attack on Iraq as part of the fight against global terrorism. According to the poll less than a quarter of the population supports a possible strike, though only 13 percent of that number said they would back an operation against Iraq without UN Security Council approval. Czech citizens' support of a possible attack against Iraq has been declined steadily since last year: last spring 39 percent of Czechs supported a possible strike, a number which dropped to just 28 percent in November, and a mere 24 percent in the latest poll. According to poll analysts, the public's disapproval of a possible military operation is linked to scepticism an attack would achieve promised goals, such as defeating organised terror.
Czech President Vaclav Havel has received the highest honour of the Slovak state on his last official visit to Slovakia; Mr Havel was given the honour Wednesday by the Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who praised Havel as being one of the most important figures of modern Czech and Slovak history. Vaclav Havel is stepping down as president of the Czech Republic on February 2nd, after 13 years in office. Just before his departure for Slovakia Wednesday Mr Havel stressed the particular symbolic importance of this last visit: both Slovakia and the Czech Republic formed a common state in 1918, but split peacefully into separate countries in 1993. Mr Havel, now 66, was Czechoslovakia's only post-communist president from late 1989 until his resignation in mid-1992, a few months before the break-up of the federation.
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