Former prime minister Milos Zeman has said he can defeat the Civic Democrats' Vaclav Klaus in a presidential election if the party he once led, the Social Democrats, are united behind him. On Saturday Mr Zeman was named the Social Democrats' candidate for next Friday's second attempt to elect a new president, after a first vote last Wednesday proved inconclusive. He and Mr Klaus are the only candidates so far. However, the Social Democrats are not united over Milos Zeman's candidacy, with current party leader Vladimir Spidla refusing to lobby on Mr Zeman's behalf, and it is not clear whether he will receive all of the party's 81 votes. Current president Vaclav Havel steps down in two weeks time after 13 years in office.
Petr Mares has been elected leader of the Freedom Union, the smallest of three parties in the governing coalition, at a party conference in Brno. In another vote at the Freedom Union conference on Sunday, the overwhelming majority of delegates voted to remain in the coalition with the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats formed after elections in June last year. Only seven delegates out of around 400 voted for a resolution to quit the government after a forthcoming referendum on joining the European Union.
Meanwhile some regional branches of the Social Democrats have been choosing their candidates for leading posts in the party, ahead of a conference in March. The only candidate for party chairman so far is current leader and prime minister, Vladimir Spidla. On Friday, deputy chairman Petr Lachnit said Stanislav Gross and Zdenek Skromach should stand against Mr Spidla, though Mr Skromach himself said on Sunday that it was not the right time to choose a new leader.
The first ever Romany priest in the Czech Orthodox church was ordained on Sunday. Romanies from around the Czech Republic attended the ordination of David Dudas at a packed St Anne's church in Pilsen. Mr Dudas is to begin serving the local Romany community in February in a Gothic church which they have spent two years renovating.
President Vaclav Havel met senior German politicians, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Johannes Rau, on a visit to Berlin on Friday. Mr Havel also presented Czech state decorations to five people who had worked to improve Czech-German relations, including two Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. President Havel steps down on February 2 after 13 years in office.
The minister of defence, Jaroslav Tvrdik, has begun a visit to Czech troops based in Kosovo and Kuwait. Mr Tvrdik began the trip a day after the approval of a government resolution allowing for Czech anti-chemical warfare forces based in Kuwait to be reinforced and deployed in a possible war against Iraq. Over 100 soldiers are to be sent to Kuwait at the end of January, bringing the total number of Czech soldiers in the Persian Gulf to over 350.
The owner of a restaurant in Ostrava, north Moravia has been ordered by Ostrava Regional Court to publicly apologise to three Romany men he refused to serve in February 1999. Owner Jiri Justik told the court during Friday's hearing that there had been no free tables in his restaurant, and the judge ruled that the incident had no racial subtext.
The governing Social Democrats have chosen former party leader Milos Zeman
as their candidate for next Friday's second attempt to find a successor to
President Vaclav Havel. A first vote on Wednesday proved inconclusive. The
two smaller parties in the governing coalition, the Christian Democrats
and the Freedom Union, have said however they will not support Mr Zeman
for president. Neither party has yet announced a candidate of their own,
but the Christian Democrats have said Petr Pithart, their unsuccessful
candidate in Wednesday's vote, will not be standing again.
Apart from Mr Zeman, the only other candidate so far is the opposition Civic Democrats' Vaclav Klaus, who did best in Wednesday's vote. The Communist Party are not expected to field a candidate, and are planning to hold talks about possible support with the parties who are putting a candidate forward.
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