The former prime minister Vaclav Klaus has been elected Czech president. In a third round of voting, Mr. Klaus received 142 votes in the two houses of Parliament. His sole rival for the post, the coalition's candidate Jan Sokol, received 124 votes altogether. Although the vote was anonymous it is believed that Mr. Klaus won with the help of communist votes and votes from members of the governing coalition who failed to support their own candidate. Political analysts predict that Mr. Sokol's defeat in the elections will seriously weaken the centre right governing coalition and undermine the position of Social Democrat leader and prime minister Vladimir Spidla. According to the CTK press agency Prime Minister Spidla reacted angrily to the lack of discipline within his party's ranks in the course of the afternoon, threatening a Cabinet reshuffle or even a government demise if the Social Democrats failed to stand as one man behind coalition candidate Jan Sokol. After the official results were announced Prime Minister Spidla congratulated Vaclav Klaus and said that a government demise was not on the agenda. Mr. Klaus likewise received congratulations from his predecessor Vaclav Havel. In his first statement for the media Mr. Klaus said he intended to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
Friday will see another attempt to elect a new Czech president. Both houses of the Czech parliament will meet at Prague Castle on Friday morning for the third time in six weeks to try and choose a new head of state in a secret ballot. The two candidates for the post are: the honorary chairman of the Civic Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who received the most votes in the previous two elections, and the ruling coalition's nominee, university professor and former Education Minister Jan Sokol. The Czech Republic has been without a president since February 2, when Vaclav Havel's second and final term of office ended. If Friday's vote fails again to produce a new head of state, the legislators are likely to start debate on the introduction of direct presidential election.
The lower house has also refused a government-proposed bill on pensions for former presidents. The legislation was meant to take effect on May 1. Former president Vaclav Havel, whose term expired on February 2, was to be the first to take advantage of it. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, who had submitted the bill, told journalists after the vote that most deputies probably did not want presidents to have any special privileges after their term expires.
Czech exports to the European Union got off to a surprisingly strong start at the beginning of the year, rising in January by almost eight percent year-on-year to 74 billion crowns. Economists, however, are warning against early optimism, saying the numbers on Czech exports do not reflect negative economic trends in neighbouring Germany. Another factor somewhat distorting the current figures: a 3 percent drop in Czech exports last year. Some Czech economists expect positive growth in exports in 2003 to rise by more than ten percent by the end of the year, stimulating overall economic growth. Seventy percent of Czech exports go to the EU, with around half of that going to Germany. Dominant exports to EU countries include automobiles, electrical appliances, office tools, and computers.
A 72-year-old man who shot dead a senior Nigerian diplomat in Prague last week is being given psychiatric treatment in a prison hospital. The elderly man, who reportedly lost his life savings in an oil investment scam, has been charged with murder and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is said to be severely traumatized and prison officials say he might try to commit suicide if left unattended.
Britain has returned a further 88 Czech citizens - almost all of whom believed to be members of the Roma minority - after they were denied asylum in the UK. It was the latest in a series of forcible repatriations of Czech Roma by the British authorities. British officials recently resumed screening all passengers flying to the United Kingdom from Prague's Ruzyne airport. Britain first launched the controls in June 2001, in an effort to prevent Czech Roma from applying for asylum in the UK.
The ruling coalition has officially nominated university professor Jan Sokol as the government's candidate for president. A total of 97 of the 101 coalition deputies in the lower house signed Mr Sokol's nomination. The two houses of parliament meet in a joint session on Friday in a third attempt to elect a successor to Vaclav Havel, who stepped down as president three weeks ago. Mr Sokol faces former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, nominated by the opposition Civic Democrats. Every vote will be crucial if he is to defeat Mr Klaus on Friday, and he spent Tuesday lobbying for support among Social Democrat MPs, several of whom have refused to back him.
The trial against former communist secret police investigator Alois Grebenicek which was to begin on Monday has had to be postponed since his defense attorney Cestmir Kubat is suffering from the flu. Judge Radomira Vesela who received medical confirmation of Mr. Kubat's illness has set the next trial date for March 24th. Mr. Grebenicek, who is 81, is accused of having tortured political prisoners in the late 40s and early 50s. Although proceedings against him have been underway for five years now, the accused never appeared in court due to his ailing health. Mr Grebenicek's son is the leader of the present-day Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia.
The Czech government has approved a new health reform plan which is to be implemented over the next three years. The planned reform addresses inadequacies of the present system, among them a lack of emergency units and specialized care in some areas of the country. Health minister Marie Souckova says she would like Czech patients to be able to chose their physician, to be better informed about their treatment and to be more active in prevention. Although the law enables Czechs to chose their doctor this is practically impossible in many areas of the country, where there is a lack of physicians, waiting rooms are overcrowded and doctors work overtime in order to keep emergency units open on weekends.
The 72 year old pensioner who shot dead the Nigerian consul in Prague last week is being given psychiatric treatment in a prison hospital. The elderly man, who reportedly lost his life savings in an oil investment scam, has been charged with murder and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is said to be severely traumatized and prison officials say they fear he might try to commit suicide if left unattended.
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