A remembrance ceremony has been held in front of the Czech Radio building
on Prague's Vinohradska St, the site of the bloodiest fighting on August
21, 1968, when Soviet-led troops invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the
reform movement known as the Prague Spring. More than 90 people were
killed and several hundred wounded in the first weeks of the invasion.
Speaking at Saturday's ceremony - which was attended by around 100, mostly elderly people - the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Lubomir Zaoralek said efforts to create a more free life in Czechoslovakia did not die under the invading armies' tanks, but a year later in August 1969, when Czechoslovak security forces suppressed protest demonstrations.
The mayor of Prague, Pavel Bem, warned of the dangers of forgetting the past, pointing out that one in five Czechs now vote for the Communist Party. He thanked those who had shown opposition to the occupying troops in 1968, and those who survived the following two decades unbowed.
Tuesday's vote of confidence in the new government will go ahead as planned; Lower House chairman Lubomir Zaoralek had suggested on Friday the vote be suspended, after allegations the opposition Civic Democrats tried to bribe Freedom Union MP Zdenek Koristka not to support the government in the vote. The Civic Democrats strongly deny the claim, which is being investigated by the police. The coalition has a majority of just one.
The prime minister, Stanislav Gross, has accepted the resignation of
Pavel Pribyl, the man he recently chose to head the Office of the
Government. Mr Pribyl stepped down on Friday after evidence emerged
that members of a riot-police unit under his command attacked
anti-Communist demonstrators in 1989.
Opposition to Mr Pribyl's appointment had been mounting; hundreds of people gathered outside the Office of the Government on Tuesday to call for his sacking, and another demonstration had been planned for next week.
The Czech Republic's rowers failed to reach the podium during
Saturday's finals at the Olympic Games in Athens. Vaclav Chalupa, who
took silver at the 1992 Games, came fifth, as did Ondrej Synek and
Milan Dolecek in the two-man event. Miroslava Kapkova came fourth in
the women's race.
So far the Czech Republic has taken three medals in Athens: a silver and a bronze in women's shooting, and a bronze in the men's two-man kayak slalom.
Pavel Pribyl announced on Friday evening that he was resigning as head of the Office of the Government, saying evidence had come to light that members of a riot-police unit he led beat up anti-Communist demonstrators in 1989. Opposition to Mr Pribyl's recent appointment by Prime Minister Stanislav Gross had been mounting; hundreds of people gathered outside the Office of the Government on Tuesday to call for his sacking, and another demonstration had been planned for next week.
The Czech team have taken their third medal at the Olympic Games in
Athens, bronze for Jaroslav Volf and Ondrej Stepanek in the men's
two-man kayak slalom. Stepanek said the two had felt under immense
pressure for the previous two days, and were extremely relieved
Friday's final went well. Slovak twins Peter and Pavol Hochschorner
took gold in the event.
Meanwhile, Czech tennis player Tomas Berdych was knocked out in the quarterfinals at the Olympics by Taylor Dent of the USA on Thursday evening. The 18-year-old from Prostejov had earlier beaten world number one Roger Federer. And Martina Navratilova will not realise her dream of crowning her career with a first Olympic medal, after she and her US doubles partner were beaten in the quarterfinals.
Among Czech medal hopefuls on Saturday will be Vaclav Chalupa, who won silver in rowing at the 1992 Olympics, and Vera Pospisilova-Cechlova in the discus.
Freedom Union deputy Zdenek Koristka has said he was offered a large bribe
by the opposition Civic Democrats not to support the government in a vote
of confidence next Tuesday. Mr Koristka told Friday's edition of the
newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes a person acting on behalf of the Civic
Democrats had offered him 10 million crowns (over 300,000 euros), a claim
which has been strenuously denied by the party. Chairman Mirek Topolanek
said he was considering filing charges of slander against Mr Koristka, who
said he rejected the alleged bribe but did not report the matter to the
police at the time. He has since been questioned.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Lubomir Zaoralek said the affair cast doubt on the credibility of Parliament, and Tuesday's vote of confidence might have to be postponed. The government has a majority of just one in the 200-seat Lower House.
The embattled Head of the Government Office, Pavel Pribyl, has apologised for not having been "on the right side of the barricade" during the anti-communist demonstrations of January 1989 and acknowledged that he was at that time a commander of a police anti-riot unit. But in a statement published in the Pravo newspaper on Thursday, Mr Pribyl said that neither he nor any of the police under his command beat demonstrators. "I was a 25-year old kid who received a task. I had to perform professionally, but at the same time I tried my utmost to do so as humanly as possible," Mr Pribyl writes. A group of some 100 people, including prominent artists and former dissidents, have signed a petition calling for Mr Pribyl's resignation; the group also staged a protest rally outside the Cabinet headquarters on Tuesday.
The government coalition has agreed on the final version of the draft policy statement, Prime Minister and Social Democrat chairman Stanislav Gross told reporters on Thursday, following five hours of talks with the other party leaders in government. The agenda calls for more fiscal restraint than did earlier drafts, with calls to offset new government spending with cuts in other areas. Planned steps to be taken in this regard include tightening the conditions for receiving welfare and trimming the wages of state employees. In an effort to fight corruption, public officials would also be required to make public their assets and monitored cash registers with electronic memory would be introduced.
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