Czech President Vaclav Havel has received the highest honour of the Slovak state on his last official visit to Slovakia; Mr Havel was given the honour Wednesday by the Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who praised Havel as being one of the most important figures of modern Czech and Slovak history. Vaclav Havel is stepping down as president of the Czech Republic on February 2nd, after 13 years in office. Just before his departure for Slovakia Wednesday Mr Havel stressed the particular symbolic importance of this last visit: both Slovakia and the Czech Republic formed a common state in 1918, but split peacefully into separate countries in 1993. Mr Havel, now 66, was Czechoslovakia's only post-communist president from late 1989 until his resignation in mid-1992, a few months before the break-up of the federation.
The leaders from the governing coalition parties the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union have met again to try to agree on a joint candidate in the Czech presidential elections. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on Wednesday that several names were being discussed but refused to give further information, saying the parties would continue talks. Christian Democrat Jan Kasal did say that possible candidates included non-party members. The coalition talks are aimed at trying to find a candidate with a chance of finding enough support in both houses of parliament to be elected as the successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel. Under the current system parliament twice failed to elect a new president in January; it is widely considered that failure in a third attempt would lead to a change in the voting system to direct presidential elections.
A new poll released by the CVVM agency on Wednesday has shown that two thirds of the Czech population disapproves of the curreent effort by the US and her allies to lead a possible attack on Iraq as part of the fight against global terrorism. According to the poll less than a quarter of the population supports a possible strike, though only 13 percent of that number said they would back an operation against Iraq without UN Security Council approval. Czech citizens' support of a possible attack against Iraq has been declined steadily since last year: last spring 39 percent of Czechs supported a possible strike, a number which dropped to just 28 percent in November, and a mere 24 percent in the latest poll. According to poll analysts, the public's disapproval of a possible military operation is linked to scepticism an attack would achieve promised goals, such as defeating organised terror.
The leaders of the three parties in the governing coalition have failed to agree on a joint candidate for president. As they left a meeting in Prague on Tuesday morning, the leader of the Social Democrats, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Christian Democrat chairman Cyril Svoboda and Freedom Union head Petr Mares said they would hold negotiations on the issue with the other parties in parliament during the next three weeks. Two recent attempts to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel have ended in failure.
Some 63 percent of Czechs are planning to take part in a referendum on accession to the European Union, according to a poll carried out by the STEM agency in January. The poll also suggests 47 percent of Czechs are planning to vote Yes to joining the EU, with 19 percent intending to vote against. The government is spending some 200 million crowns on an information campaign ahead of what will be the country's first ever referendum. It takes place on June 15 and 16.
Five days before he steps down, President Vaclav Havel played host to Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Austrian President Thomas Klestil on Tuesday. The two visiting presidents and their wives had lunch at a Prague restaurant with Mr Havel and his wife Dagmar. Also on Tuesday, Mr Havel appointed Jiri Mucha a constitutional court judge, the president's last such appointment before he steps down on Sunday after 13 years in office. On Wednesday Mr Havel is due to visit the Slovak capital Bratislava, on what will be his last foreign trip as president of the Czech Republic.
The number of Czechs seeking asylum in Britain has decreased dramatically. According to the British government, up to 300 asylum seekers from the eastern European candidate countries for EU membership, especially the Czech Republic, were recorded weekly during the autumn of last year. Today, only a handful apply for asylum daily. Last year, a law was introduced in Great Britain stating that all ten candidate countries for EU membership are "safe". This has drastically reduced the chances of most Czechs, especially Roma, being granted asylum.
Vehicles and soldiers from a Czech biochemical warfare unit were loaded onto a military transport plane on Monday as part of the Czech Republic's commitment to a possible war against Iraq. According to a Czech Army spokesman, the plane is the first of six aircraft scheduled to fly some 130 soldiers and 40 vehicles to a military base in Kuwait from a Prague airfield over the next few days. Following a US request for reinforcement, the Czech government gave its army the green light to deploy more than 350 members of the special unit whose experts can detect biological, chemical and radiological weapons on battlefields. The unit, however, can only enter Iraq if there is a UN mandate or weapons inspectors find proof of Iraq using biochemical or nuclear weapons.
Party leaders are due to meet to discuss when - and whether - to hold a third election. Some politicians want to change the constitution to allow a popular vote, something which enjoys strong public support. The country will most likely be left without a head of state when President Havel steps down on February 2.
Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper has claimed around 20 Afghan extremists are heading for a number of destinations in Europe, including the Czech Republic. Quoting unnamed German intelligence sources, the paper claimed the extremists were travelling to Europe on false Pakistani passports. Describing them as "terror commandos" loyal to Osama bin Laden, Bild said they were travelling via Bahrain to Germany, Britain, France and the Czech Republic. A German intelligence official confirmed to the DPA news agency that German border police had been warned to be on the lookout for members of the group. However he said there was no "concrete evidence" of any impending terrorist activity.
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