Jan Svejnar, who is being tipped as a rival to Vaclav Klaus in next year's presidential elections, met senators on Wednesday to discuss his candidacy. The meeting was organized by senators from the opposition Social Democratic Party, which has said that it will support Mr Svejnar's bid if he can canvas enough support from across the political spectrum. The respected economist already has the support of the Green Party and the European Democrats. To beat Vaclav Klaus in February's elections, Mr Svejnar would need the votes of both the Communists and the Christian Democrats on top of those already pledged. He is still to announce whether he will actually run against Mr Klaus for the presidency. Jan Svejnar has spent most of his life in the United States. He was an economic advisor to former president Vaclav Havel for almost a decade. He is 54 years old.
Jiri Cunek is to remain chairman of the Christian Democrats, after the party leadership accepted his explanation of alleged irregularities in his family's finances in the 1990s at a meeting in Prague on Tuesday. Their vote of confidence in Mr Cunek came on the eve of his official resignation as deputy prime minister and minister for regional development: he announced he was quitting last week after coming under pressure in connection with claims he had abused the social welfare system and the reopening of an investigation into alleged bribe-taking. As expected, Mr Cunek resigned on Wednesday morning following a cabinet meeting. His successor to the posts of deputy prime minister and minister for regional development is expected to be found next Tuesday.
The Prague Public Transport Company is considering whether to bring ticket-barriers back into operation in the capital's metro system, reported Hospodarske noviny on Wednesday. In an interview given to the paper, the head of Prague's Public Transport Company, Martin Dvorak, said he was 'seriously considering' the idea as a means of cutting down on the number of passengers currently travelling without a ticket. Last year, 296,000 people were caught using the city's public transport without a ticket, a figure up 10,000 on 2005. According to Mr Dvorak, a study on the financial viability of a turnstile system is currently being carried out. The Public Transport Company will start to work out the details of any such system only when the study is completed, in around two months' time. If approved, ticket-barriers could be up and running in the metro by 2009, he said. The Prague underground network had a system of turnstiles up until 1985, when they were removed to lessen congestion in the metro.
According to a poll conducted by the Median agency, if an election had been held last month, it would have been won by the opposition Social Democrats with around 36% of the vote. The Civic Democrats, who are currently in power, would have come second with a 29% share of the vote. The Communists would have received 15% of the votes cast, while the Greens would have come fourth with a 6.5% share of the electorate. Median suggested that October elections would have had a turnout of nearly 60%, which is 5% lower than the real turnout at last year's elections for the Czech Lower House.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, has held talks with the head of the US Missile Defence Agency. Mr Paroubek is in the United States to discuss plans for the American missile-defence shield which may be built in central Bohemia, and to which Mr Paroubek and the Social Democrats are opposed. Following the meeting with General Obering, the head of the Missile Defence Agency, Jiri Paroubek said he was still sceptical about the building of the base. Mr Obering told reporters that he had not tried to change Mr Paroubek's mind about the radar, but instead sought to furnish him with more information about the base. Mr Paroubek will be in America until Thursday; he is set to meet Czech-born former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich on Wednesday.
President Klaus has started a three-day visit to Britain, during which he will meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown and leader of the opposition David Cameron. According to a presidential office spokesperson, President Klaus will also be meeting Queen Elizabeth II during his stay in Britain. Upon Mr Klaus' arrival, he was taken to the Brookwood military cemetery, where he paid homage to Czech fighter pilots who fought with the British RAF during the Second World War.
Interior minister Ivan Langer announced on Wednesday that the Czech Republic would be cooperating with other countries ahead of an unauthorised demonstration planned by far-right extremists. The Interior Minister was responding to intelligence information, which suggests that extremists from neighbouring Slovakia and Germany are planning to attend the march. The Young National Democrats, a neo-Nazi group, lost a legal battle to march through Prague's Jewish Quarter on November 10, the anniversary of Kristallnacht - a Nazi pogrom which took place in 1938. Over 1,400 police officers will be deployed on Saturday to break-up any unauthorised demonstrations held by far-right campaigners. In a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Langer warned foreign citizens against violating Czech laws, and said that those who came to the country to do so on Saturday should expect 'a tough and uncompromising reaction from Czech security forces'.
Czech national goalkeeper Petr Cech could be out of football for up to a month with a calf injury sustained on Tuesday night. Mr Cech picked up the injury when playing for his team Chelsea in a Champions League match against German team Schalke. On Wednesday, Mr Cech underwent a series of scans to discern whether he would need surgery on the leg. If an operation is required, Petr Cech could be out for up to a month, which would be a major defensive blow for Chelsea, who currently have John Terry, Paulo Ferreira and Ashley Cole all sidelined.
On Wednesday, the cabinet approved the transformation of Prague Airport into a joint-stock company. This paves the way for Prague Airport's privatisation, which the government is planning some time next year. The new company will be established by the Ministry of Finance, which will then go on to represent the state as the 100% owner of the airport. The government is still undecided on whether to sell the airport outright, or lease it on a long-term basis to the highest bidder. It is thought that the sale of the airport could bring as much as 70 billion CZK (3.5 billion USD) into the state coffers, money which the government has said will go on improving the country's transport infrastructure. Last year, Prague Airport made a net profit of almost 1 billion CZK and is considered to be one of the state's most lucrative assets.
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