Inter-party negotiations to form a new government are scheduled to begin
on Sunday evening. Leaders of the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats
and Freedom Union will be discussing a proposal put forth by Prime
Minister Stanislav Gross to form a "pro-European" government
with a new Social Democrat party member at the helm. Mr Gross has agreed
to step down from office on the condition that the coalition members not
nominate party leaders for key Cabinet posts. Under the Czech
constitution, the prime minister's resignation automatically triggers the
whole Cabinet's collapse. If Mr Gross quits, it would be the second
cabinet collapse in the Czech Republic in less than a year.
Ahead of Sunday night's meeting, Christian Democrat deputy chairman Libor Ambrozek, who was one of five ministers to resign in recent days, said that his party would not let Mr Gross dictate who it would nominate to take up Cabinet post in a new government. He was reacting to the Prime Minister's demands that ministers who had "undermined" the government, presumably by resigning, not be allowed to resume their posts. According to the Social Democrats, the new government, which will likely be headed by the current Czech ambassador to the European Union, Jan Kohout, would be a kind of caretaker government, formed to gain confidence in an upcoming vote before the lower house of Parliament. Prime Minister Gross has said that if the coalition members do not agree to form such a government, the Social Democrats will govern alone with a minority Cabinet.
A new Miss Czech Republic was crowned on Saturday night, in a ceremony at the Grandhotel Pupp in the spa town of Karlovy Vary. She is 23-year-old Lucie Kralova from Teplice, in northern Bohemia. Miss Kralova received over 220,000 votes via SMS, the phone text messages. As Miss Czech Republic 2005, the dark-haired, green-eyed beauty will have the chance to represent the country at the next Miss World contest.
In other news, police say that some 150 skinheads attended a concert on Saturday night in the village of Hostenice, near the Moravian capital of Brno. Police and monitors from the anti-discrimination group Tolerance say the event passed without incident, but anti-fascist groups say the bands have performed songs with anti-Semitic lyrics, a violation of Czech laws.
According to a new poll by the STEM agency, however, the majority of voters are not in favour of the three-party coalition continuing in government. Sixty-one percent of those polled said would prefer for early elections to be held instead. When asked who should be the next prime minister, given that the coalition parties have agreed it will be a Social Democrat party member, 28 percent named the current Minister of Finance, Bohuslav Sobotka, as their choice, 18 percent said Zdenek Skromach, who is the minister of Labour and Social Affairs, while only 17 percent said they thought Stanislav Gross should remain in his post.
On the occasion of the 'International Day of Roma', Czech Roma leaders on Friday issued a renewed call for the removal of a pig farm at the site of World War II labour camp where thousands of Roma, also known as Gypsies, were interred, and several hundred died. Roma activist Ondrej Gina said that the new petition would demand that Czech authorities separate off a memorial to those who died at Lety camp from the pig farm, which was built under communism in the 1970s. Only one in 20 Czech Roma survived the war. The petitioners say the presence of the pig farm at Lety is an insult to the memory of those who were killed.
Meanwhile, Mr Gross confirmed on Saturday that the "chief candidate" to fill his shoes is the current Czech ambassador to the European Union, Jan Kohout. The two men had held private talks on Friday about the possibility of Mr Kohout returning from Brussels to head up the new "pro-European" government, a prime task of which would be to push through ratification of the European Constitution.
A proposal put forth by Prime Minister Stanislav Gross on how to choose
his replacement was agreed on Saturday by the top leadership of the Social
Democratic party, of which Mr Gross is chairman. His proposal, first
announced on Thursday, is to form a "pro-European" government of
the three-party coalition including the centre-right Christian Democrats
and the Freedom Union parties, with the new prime minister to again be a
member of the left-leaning Social Democrats.
The leaders of the other two parties have agreed in principle to the proposal, and to Mr Gross' condition that he have final say over the appointment of new Cabinet ministers, but have bristled at his suggestion that those ministers who have "recently undermined" the old government - taken to mean the five ministers who have resigned from the Cabinet in recent days - not be allowed to return. However, all three parties have reportedly agreed in private that their leaders will not seek key Cabinet posts.
Flags have been flown at half-mast and a minute's silence held around the Czech Republic on an official day of mourning for Pope John Paul II, who was buried on Friday. The pontiff's funeral was attended by the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and lower house chairman Lubomir Zaoralek. It is believed that a few thousand Czech Roman Catholics also travelled to the Vatican for the funeral.
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