A new opinion poll released on Saturday claimed that Vaclav Klaus, former prime minister and leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, would emerge as the clear winner if a popular vote were held to elect a new president. The poll, conducted by the Sofres-Factum agency, said Mr Klaus would come first with 34 percent, far ahead of his rivals. The two houses of parliament meet in a joint session on January 15th in a bid to choose a successor to President Vaclav Havel. However observers say the vote could fail to produce a winner, and there is a growing consensus among politicians that the parliamentary election should be replaced by a popular vote.
The northern city of Usti nad Labem remains on high alert after the River Elbe burst its banks on Sunday. Local officials say some areas of the city have flooded, although the river is rising more slowly and should peak on Monday. Elsewhere in the country, water levels on rivers - including the River Vltava in Prague, continue to fall. There was minor flooding in towns and villages across the country over the last few days, caused by heavy rain and melting snow. The worst floods in five hundred years devastated large areas of the Czech Republic in August, leaving more than a dozen people dead and causing some three billion dollars of damage.
A newspaper has said Mr Klaus is among the politicians invited to a farewell party being held by President Havel on Thursday. The party, to be held at the Lany presidential chateau outside Prague, will be attended by politicians, senior officials and military commanders. Also among the guests will be another former prime minister, Milos Zeman. Both he and Mr Klaus are regarded as longstanding rivals of Mr Havel, and have often criticised him in public.
The discovery of extra revenue and lower costs at the year's end has allowed the government to unexpectedly cut its 2002 budget deficit. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Friday that year-end figures revealed a 2002 deficit totaling 45.7 billion crowns, or 1.5 billion dollars, far below the 62 billion crown deficit approved by parliament. The announcement came in the face of increased pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, which have criticised the government for failing to spend within its means. Last month parliament passed a 2003 budget with a record-high deficit of 111 billion crowns.
Earlier Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla sought to reassure the public over the situation on the country's rivers, saying there was no danger of a repeat of the devastation of August. Mr Spidla said he was aware of the tension which had arisen in recent days, but told the public the situation was being constantly monitored and was under control. The prime minister said new anti-flood measures were being prepared and will draw upon 3.7 billion crowns made available by the European Solidarity Fund.
A newspaper has said President Havel is to hold a goodbye party at the Lany presidential chateau outside Prague on Thursday, and has invited politicians, senior officials and military commanders to attend. Among the guests will be two former prime ministers - Vaclav Klaus, former leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, and Milos Zeman, former leader of the ruling Social Democrats. Both men are regarded as longstanding rivals of Mr Havel, and have often criticised him in public.
Towns and villages in north Bohemia were bracing themselves for flooding on Saturday, after heavy rain and melting snow caused rivers to burst their banks. As water levels slowly return to normal in the rest of the country, the northern city of Usti nad Labem was preparing for a wave of floodwater from the swollen river Elbe. Officials are also closely monitoring the River Vltava in Prague, where villages on the outskirts of the city have already been flooded. There has also been isolated flooding in southern and western Bohemia. The worst floods in five hundred years devastated large areas of the Czech Republic in August, leaving more than a dozen people dead and causing several billion dollars of damage.
Prime Minister Spidla also said on Friday he expected key negotiations on finding a successor to President Vaclav Havel to take place after January 15th, when the two houses of parliament meet in a joint session to elect a new president. Mr Spidla said talks between the parties in parliament had not secured sufficient support for any of the official candidates to win in the first attempt. Mr Spidla has in the past not ruled out changing the constitution to allow a direct election if the January 15 vote fails to choose a successor to Mr Havel, who retires on February 2nd after 13 years in the post.
The prime minister has also been telling journalists about his government's preparations for a mid-June referendum on European Union membership, which will be the first referendum in the country's history. Mr Spidla said the coalition's campaign would be informative and of a political character rather than a sales campaign'. Government ministers will explain both the pros and cons of joining the union in the coming months, added Mr Spidla.
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