The Prime Minister said his ruling Social Democratic Party was ready to
go back to the negotiating table to try to reach agreement on the
formation of a new pro-European government, but that it would accept no
ultimatums from the smaller parties. Mr. Gross said that after the
failure of the preceding round of talks, the Social Democrat leadership
might decide to send a different team of negotiators to the coalition
talks. He did not specify who would represent the party.
A fragile coalition deal on a new government collapsed only hours after being clinched last Thursday, when it was rejected by the Social Democratic Party leadership. Opponents to the agreement said the party's negotiators had overstepped their mandate and been overly generous in concessions made to the two smaller coalition parties.
The parties in question -the Christian Democrats and Freedom Union - have said they are prepared to go back to the negotiating table on condition that the talks are based on the fundamental points agreed on last week.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross says he will urge the President to accept the resignations of seven of his cabinet ministers as quickly as possible, and aims to present him with a list of suitable candidates for these posts. The embattled Prime Minister said in a televised debate on Sunday that he had no intention of resigning from his post unless it was clear that there was a new, pro-European government ready to take over. Mr. Gross said he would do everything in his power to prevent early elections. There is speculation that the Prime Minister is eager to part with ministers whom he sees as having been disloyal to the government and thus prevent the possibility of an overwhelming number of ministers enforcing the Cabinet's resignation at its next session on Wednesday.
The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, who will be in the conclave which will elect a new pontiff, has called on Czech believers to pray for the right decision. Cardinal Vlk praised the role of Pope John Paul II, describing him as possibly the best pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church. The 115 Roman Catholic cardinals eligible to vote have gone into sequestered lodgings and will dine together on Sunday night, before entering their momentous conclave in the Sistine Chapel on Monday afternoon. The 85 year old Czech Cardinal Tomas Spidlik is too old to vote but he was invited to deliver a "meditation" to the cardinal electors.
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.
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.
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.