The Czech government is in disarray, following the resignation of seven cabinet ministers. The country was thrown back into political turmoil on Thursday after a fragile deal between the three governing parties on forming a new pro-European government collapsed within hours after being clinched, raising the prospect of early elections. The deal, which would have paved the way for Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to resign in the wake of a scandal over his private finances, was rejected by his own party leadership. Mr. Gross himself voted against it, which has evoked criticism from some high ranking members of his own party. There is now speculation that some of Mr. Gross' own party ministers may turn against him and enforce the demise of the whole Cabinet at its Wednesday session.
A clean up operation is underway at Moravia's Pernstejn Castle, which was extensively damaged by fire on Friday. Sixteen fire units fought the blaze for twelve hours. The damage is estimated at around 100 million Czech crowns, around 4 million US dollars. Fortunately, parts of the castle which are open to tourists have not been damaged, although a storeroom containing antique furniture and 300 hundred valuable paintings was completely destroyed. The Gothic-Renaissance castle dates back to the 13th century and is often described as "a pearl of Moravian architecture". The cause of the fire remains unknown.
President Vaclav Klaus said on Friday that he would push for early elections unless the three parties in the collapsed governing coalition could come to an agreement on forming a new government within a reasonable time-frame. Mr. Klaus ruled out a possible third alternative - a minority Social Democrat government. The President said he was very disappointed by the break down in talks and urged the three coalition parties to let him know without delay whether they were capable of resolving the protracted crisis.
A twenty five year old driver who was caught speeding in a stolen car in the early hours of Saturday crashed into seven vehicles and injured a policewoman before giving himself up to the police, the CTK press agency reports. The young man, who assaulted police officers after he was forced to stop and get out of the car, is believed to have been on drugs.
Prime Minister Gross said on Friday he would push once again for what
he calls a "pro-European" government without senior coalition party
representatives. It was the presence of senior Christian Democrat and
Freedom Union figures in the newly agreed cabinet that led the Social
Democrats to reject the agreement.
Jan Kohout, the career diplomat chosen to replace Stanislav Gross as prime minister, has returned to Brussels, where he is the Czech ambassador to the European Union.
Pernstejn Castle near the city of Brno has been damaged by a fire which started around 6 am on Friday. A collapsed roof is thought to have destroyed a store containing valuable furniture and around 300 paintings. The cause of the fire is not yet known, but the damage is estimated at around 100 million Czech crowns (over 4 million US dollars). The Gothic-Renaissance castle is considered one of the finest in Moravia; it was built in the 13th century and belonged to the Pernstejn noble family.
Meanwhile, Mr Gross has paid almost 900,000 Czech crowns (around 40,000 US dollars) to businessman Rostislav Rod in the latest turn in the controversy over the financing of the prime minister's flat. Mr Rod says he lent the money to Mr Gross's uncle, who then lent it to the prime minister. Allegations of impropriety on the part of Mr Gross and his wife sparked the ongoing political crisis.
With the Czech government in disarray, President Vaclav Klaus said on
Friday he would push for early elections unless the three parties in the
collapsed coalition of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross agree to form a new
government. Mr Klaus said he would not allow a third alternative - a
minority Social Democrat government.
The president said he was angry that Mr Gross's party had rejected a deal on the creation of a new majority government with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union to lead the country until elections next year. Under this agreement, agreed late on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Gross could have stood down without the need for early elections.
Meanwhile, the national committee of the second largest coalition
party, the Christian Democrats, has approved the original agreement of
the three parties and even nominated their candidates for the vacated
ministerial posts. Party chairman Miroslav Kalousek has called on the
Social Democrats to approve the original deal.
Thursday's events mark another turn in a drawn-our crisis in the Czech government coalition which started two months ago after the Christian Democrats called on Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to step down over the controversy surrounding the financing of his Prague flat and his wife's business dealings.
Stanislav Gross held the post of Czech prime minister for less than a year. He took over from Vladimir Spidla, who resigned last June after government parties - including his Social Democrats - were routed in the European Parliament elections. Mr Gross also replaced Mr Spidla as chairman of the Social Democrats. While known as a negotiator rather than a visionary, the European Union's youngest prime minister and former railway worker failed in weeks of talks to win enough backing from his political colleagues to continue amid a scandal over his family's finances.
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