The privatisation of the state-controlled Cesky Telecom should be completed by the end of June, an official at the National Property Fund said on Friday. The cabinet is expected to announce the sale of the state's 51 percent stake in the company to Spain's Telefonica in the middle of next week. The sell-off of Cesky Telecom is the last remaining privatisation of a major state concern.
The Czech prime minister, Stanislav Gross, has survived a vote of no
confidence called by the opposition Civic Democrats. Friday's vote came
two days after his government lost their majority with the departure of
the Christian Democrats from the coalition. The remaining parties, Mr
Gross's Social Democrats and the Freedom Union, won less than half the
votes, but survived thanks to the Communist Party, who abstained.
Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek later slammed what he called a "red coalition" of the Social Democrats and Communists.
The no-confidence vote followed a period of instability in the coalition government, after Prime Minister Gross became embroiled in a scandal over his family's finances.
Meanwhile, President Vaclav Klaus has demanded that Prime Minister
Gross call a vote of confidence, before Mr Klaus appoints new
ministers, including replacements for the three Christian Democrat
ministers who resigned on Thursday. Mr Gross said the president did not
have the right to make such a demand under the constitution, and said
he would not hold a confidence vote.
The prime minister has already announced some of his new cabinet appointees. Jan Kohout is to become foreign minister, Radko Martinek will be environment minister and the transport ministry will be headed by Pavel Svagr.
The Czech Republic's footballers have beaten Andorra 4:0 away in a qualifying game for next year's World Cup in Germany. Milan Baros and Vratislav Lokvenc scored from open play, while Marek Jankulovski and Tomas Rosicky both converted penalties in Wednesday's game. The Czechs are one point behind leaders Holland in their World Cup qualifying group.
The creation of a minority government after the Christian Democrats' departure from the coalition would be the worst possible solution to the current political crisis, economic analysts have told the CTK news agency. According to CTK they are afraid that a government with only minority support in Parliament would be unable to push through crucial economic reforms. They see the government's fall and early elections, or the forming of a majority cabinet as the best solutions.
A member of the Qatar royal family has been charged in the Czech Republic with abusing underage girls, the CTK news agency has reported. Prosecutors are also investigating young women alleged to have acted as intermediaries for the man, Hamid Sani, by recruiting under-age girls on the streets. According to police, Mr Sani abused girls who had been delivered to him in his Prague flat by three young women. Detectives discovered that up to 10 girls a day took turns in Mr Sani's flat. Mr Sani, along with the three alleged procurers, faces charges of sexual abuse, corrupting morals and procuring. Hamid Sani, who has been in custody pending investigations since September, has lived in the Czech Republic for more than 10 years, running a private business.
All three Christian Democrat ministers have handed in their
resignations. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Transport Minister Milan
Simonovsky and Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek are leaving the
cabinet after Wednesday's decision by the Christian Democrats' national
conference to quit the governing coalition due to a row over Prime
Minister Gross's family finances. President Vaclav Klaus has said he
will wait for the results of Friday's no-confidence vote before he
decides whether he will accept the resignations.
Prime Minister Gross has already chosen candidates for the three ministerial posts. They are Social Democrat MP Radko Martinek for the post of Environment Minister, the head of the Czech delegation to the EU Jan Kohout for the post of Foreign Minister and the director of the Transportation Fund Pavel Svagr for the post of Transport Minister.
The chairman of the Communist Party Miroslav Grebenicek has said the
party's executive committee has recommended to Communist deputies to
abstain in Friday morning's no-confidence vote in the government of Prime
Minister Stanislav Gross. If all Communist MPs follow the recommendation,
the opposition will fall far short of the 101-vote majority needed to
topple the government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross.
Mr Gross lost his parliamentary majority on Wednesday when the Christian Democratic Party dropped its support for his coalition government after the prime minister ignored calls to quit. Mr Gross's coalition government of his Social Democrats and the Freedom Union is now down to 80 seats in the 200-member lower house of parliament. The Communists, who have had a low profile since the end of their rule in 1989, have become the country's powerbrokers as they will decide on Friday if Stanislav Gross's government survives the no-confidence vote.
In related news, the Cabinet is expected to decide on how to continue with the privatisation of Cesky Telecom — that is by tender or through a flotation of shares — following the results of the no-confidence vote in prime minister Stanislav Gross on Friday. The government's privatisation commission was meeting on Wednesday to discuss bids, which include telecommunication companies Swisscom, Belgacom, Spain's Telefonica and a grouping of Blackstone, CVC, Provident partnered with France Telecom. Media reports suggest binding bids went as high as 73 billion crowns (over $3 billion).
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