European Union leaders on Tuesday met for foreign policy consultations with 13 future members in an effort to diffuse tension sparked by French President Jacques Chirac's verbal attack on the EU candidates on Monday. Mr. Chirac evoked outrage across eastern Europe, when he slammed candidate countries for their stand on the Iraqi crisis, calling them "childish and irresponsible" and telling them they would have done better to "shut up". The hastily convened foreign policy consultations in Brussels produced a common statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis but warning Bagdad to disarm or face war as a last resort. In the document current and future EU members promise to "avoid new dividing lines" and vow "joint endeavours" to meet their common goals. The Czech Prime Minister told reporters he welcomed the gesture and stressed the need for present and future EU members to hold foreign policy consultations on important issues.
Prague's Ruzyne Airport increased security on Monday, following a decision by the Central Crisis Committee last week to tighten security around the country's borders, water sources, reservoirs, and international airport. While police, armed with guns are already patrolling the airport area, up to forty soldiers are expected to be deployed this week. Thorough security checks have mainly been introduced to passengers flying to the USA, Canada, and Great Britain.
The whole stretch of Prague's B-metro line is to be made operational on Monday, six months after it was severely damaged by floods. The three key metro stations -Muzeum- Florenc and Mustek - will thus be fully operational again, which should alleviate the long-term pressure on Prague busses and trams. According to the city transport authority trains will run the full length of the B line but 4 stations will remain closed for further repair work. All repairs should be completed by the end of March, when city transport in the Czech capital will finally return to normal.
The Christian Democrats and Freedom Union, the two smaller parties in the Czech governing coalition, have voiced preliminary support for university professor Jan Sokol as their candidate in the third round of presidential elections, due to be held on February 28th. Mr. Sokol, whose nomination was officially approved by the Social Democratic Party leadership on Saturday, appears to be the most acceptable figure so far to the three parties of the governing coalition who, due to their slim majority in parliament, need to unite behind a single candidate. If nominated, Mr. Sokol will stand against the former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, the official candidate of the opposition Civic Democrats. A third failure to elect a new president would most likely tip the scales in favour of direct presidential elections.
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.
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 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.