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.
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.
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.
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.
Friday's election - the second in 10 days - ended in failure after none of the three candidates won a sufficient majority. Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus - nominated by the opposition Civic Democrats - once again made the strongest showing, falling just 14 votes short of becoming president. Senator Jaroslava Moserova, nominated by the two smaller parties in the ruling coalition, came second.
Several hundred people marched through the centre of Prague on Sunday to protest against a possible war on Iraq. Police said around 200 people attended the march, from the city's Wenceslas Square to the American embassy in Mala Strana. Among the demonstrators were American expatriates living in Prague and Czech anarchist groups. There was a brief confrontation when several Arab demonstrators carrying pictures of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein tried to join the march. Police say otherwise there were no incidents and the march passed off peacefully.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has said poor strategy was to blame for the second failed attempt to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel on Friday. Mr Spidla, leader of the senior coalition Social Democrats, said nominating the party's former leader Milos Zeman had been a mistake. Mr Zeman was knocked out in the first round of the election, a joint session of the two houses of parliament. Mr Zeman's poor showing has highlighted deep divisions within the Social Democrats, after it emerged that many in his own party voted against him. Mr Spidla - who bitterly opposed Mr Zeman's nomination - says any consequences of the failure will be decided at the Social Democrats' national conference in March. Some party associations are calling for Mr Spidla to be replaced by a new leader.
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