Demonstrations against a possible war on Iraq have taken place in a number of Czech cities.Close to a thousand protesters gathered on Wenceslas Square for an anti-war demonstration organized by the Communist party and several hundred people congregated on the Jan Palach Square for a protest organized by the Initiative Against War. The demonstrators carried placards reading "No blood for oil", " Stop the war" and "God said: Thou shall not kill". Similar protests took place in Ostrava and Brno on Saturday, where some 500 people signed an anti-war petition to be presented to Parliament. The protesters demanded that the Czech government and parliament should not wage a war in the name of the Czech people since surveys have shown that close to 70% of Czechs are in favour of a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis.
The Social Democratic Party leadership has unanimously approved the nomination of university professor Jan Sokol as the coalition's joint candidate in the third round of presidential elections. Mr. Sokol, a former dissident and education minister, is currently the only candidate being discussed by the three parties of the Czech governing coalition. If all three parties approve his nomination next week, Mr. Sokol will run against former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who is the nominee of the center-right Civic Democratic Party. The third round of presidential elections is to take place on February 28th.
In a related development, the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Saturday urged the international community to give the United Nations weapons inspectors the time they need in Iraq. Addressing a Czech-German discussion forum in Munich, Foreign Minister Fisher said that the Iraqi crisis could be solved by effective weapons controls and that a war against Iraq could not be justified in view of what the inspections had already achieved and what was still possible.
Miroslav Hornicek, a popular Czech actor, writer and film director has died at the age of 84. Born in 1918 in the town of Plzen, Miroslav Hornicek began his career as a state employee but his success in an amateur theatre company put him on the road to fame. Dubbed the nation's "philosopher-clown" Hornicek starred in numerous theatre and film productions and for years hosted a highly popular talk show on Czech Television. Miroslav Hornicek received a number of awards, among them the Thalie Award for his lifelong contribution to the world of theatre, the Karel Polacek Price for Humor in Art, and a place in the Hall of Fame alongside the best artists in the country's history.
The chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek has said his party is not discussing possible support for their presidential candidate Vaclav Klaus with the Communists Party. Mr Topolanek also said the two unsuccessful attempts to elect a new president were not a failure of deputies and senators. According to him, the underlying cause was the method of elections to the lower house, which does not make it possible to form a strong government and subsequently to elect a president.
The deputy chairman of the Social Democrats Zdenek Skromach has said that university professor Jan Sokol is the only presidential candidate now being discussed by the three parties in the governing coalition. Mr Skromach said he did not expect hundred percent support from the junior coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, adding that a handful of Social Democrat MPs had not yet decided on whom to vote for in the upcoming election. However, Minister Skromach said he believed that politicians had learnt a lesson from the two previous inconclusive attempts to elect a Czech president, in which Social Democrat candidates, former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures and former party chairman and Prime Minister Milos Zeman failed in the first round.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has expressed support for Turkey in its request for NATO assistance preceding a possible military conflict with Iraq. Speaking at a joint press conference in Paris on Thursday, the Czech foreign minister underscored the fact each NATO member state had the right to ask its allies for help if it felt it was under threat. Mr Svoboda added it was important the request had a positive response, saying it was needed to preserve NATO's "credibility", not only with member states but also with new countries invited to join last year. Mr Svoboda's French counterpart Dominique de Villepin did not comment on the statements. So far, France, Germany, and Belgium, have refused to approve NATO plans to protect Turkey in case war breaks out between the US and Iraq.
Unions at the Dukovany and Temelin nuclear power stations called a strike alert at noon on Wednesday in protest at planned lay-offs. Unions at Temelin came out in support of their colleagues at Dukovany after they announced their planned protest action on Tuesday. According to Dukovany trade union spokesman Jiri Jedlicka, several mayors of the towns in the region have already voiced their support of a possible strike. While specific plans for redundancies have been made at Dukovany, unions at Temelin have yet to obtain any concrete dates and figures. The unions are now waiting for the outcome of promised talks with the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda, is to discuss the situation in Iraq and European Union issues with his French counterpart in Paris on Thursday. Unlike France, the Czech Republic has said it will support a possible United States-led war against Iraq if the United Nations passes a resolution allowing for such an intervention. Czech anti-chemical units in the Persian Gulf have been reinforced for that purpose.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has said he believes a third attempt to elect a new Czech president will be successful. Mr Spidla said on Tuesday he expected those members of his own Social Democrats who have promised to support former education minister Jan Sokol in the February 28 vote to keep their word. On Monday the prime minister and the heads of the two other parties in the governing coalition discussed the issue of support for Mr Sokol's candidature. The Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union have said they would vote for Mr Sokol, if it is clear the Social Democrats are united behind him, something some observers say is unlikely. The Czech Republic has been without a president since Vaclav Havel stepped down on February 2, after two attempts by parliament to elect a successor in January proved inconclusive.
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