The Czech Constitutional Court has upheld President Havel's challenge to a controversial new election law, ruling that two articles of the law violated the principle of free competition among political parties. The court said that the law, supported by the two largest political parties, unconstitutionally doubled the state subsidy per representative to one million crowns and was biased in favour of larger parties in the lower house. The court also overruled an article of the law according to which a party would not be eligible for continued state support if, after one full term of receiving that support, it failed to pass the 5% parliamentary threshold. According to the law parties merit financial support from the state after crossing the 3% threshold. The ruling is a blow to the ruling Social Democrats and their opposition allies in the Civic Democratic Party, who joined forces to push the legislation through Parliament and later over-ride the President's veto.
A Prague court has initiated bankruptcy proceedings against the far-right Republican Party, formerly headed by Miroslav Sladek. The party has been out of the public eye since losing all of its parliamentary seats in the 1998 elections. Its more moderate faction laid the blame for the defeat on Mr Sladek, claiming that his "excesses and extremist views" were behind the drop in popularity, but even after Mr Sladek left to set up a new political party, the Republican Party failed to attract supporters. Its employees have reportedly not been paid in two years and it was at their request that the Court initiated bankruptcy proceedings.
Frantisek Chvalovsky, the President of the Czech-Moravian football league, has been arrested and charged with fraud. Chvalovsky was arrested at Prague's Ruzyne Airport on Tuesday morning and underwent several hours of questioning. He has been charged with large-scale fraud involving 640 million crowns. Chvalovsky is said to have made numerous illegal transactions while in the post of President of the Czech-Moravian Agrarian Association, including funneling bank credits into activities other than they were granted for and then defaulting on repayments.
The Finance Ministry has set a ceiling on rent deregulation in 2001, according to which rent may not rise by more than 4%. Local governments are expected to set their own ceilings by June 1st, depending on the current housing situation and local construction activity. The steepest rent-increase in recent years came in 1999 when the rent increase ceiling was set at 9.3%. At present rent eats up approximately a quarter of the average salary.
The Temelin nuclear power plant, which was re-started over the weekend following a month long shut down for technical repairs, on Tuesday supplied electricity to the Czech Republic power grid. Milan Nebesar, a spokesman for the state owned utility CEZ, said the plant was generating 200 megawats for a series of tests aimed at measuring vibrations in a pipe that proved faulty and had to be replaced. The grid connection is to last only a few hours, but is to resume for short periods over the next few months as part of the testing programme.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, has welcomed reassurances from Washington regarding continuity of US foreign policy in Europe. US Secretary of State Colin Powell told a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday that any review of US peacekeeping operations in the Balkans would be made in full consultation with the Allies. "We went in together, we will come out together" the US Secretary of State said. Mr. Powell likewise took an upbeat view of Europe's defence plans, saying they had every potential to strengthen NATO.
The Speaker of the Czech Lower House of Parliament, Vaclav Klaus, and his visiting Hungarian counterpart, Mr Janos Ader, told journalists in Prague on Tuesday that their countries were not running a race for EU membership. Competing would be counter-productive, Mr. Ader noted, adding that candidates could only put pressure on Brussels to keep up the pace of both its own internal reform and accession talks with the frontrunners. Neither official would specify when they hoped to see their country admitted, but the Czech government recently made a series of significant concessions in the hope of removing hurdles on the road to early admission and makes no secret of the fact that it is hoping to join the Union in 2003.
The tram accident in Prague 6 in which seven people were injured on Monday is believed to have been caused by deliberate sabotage. Police spokeswoman Sona Jindrakova said the accident was caused by a number of small car-parts found jammed in one of the rails. She ruled out that the parts could have dropped from a passing vehicle saying they were in a plastic bag and appeared to have been carefully positioned with the intention of de-railing the tram. An investigation is underway. The tram driver is still in a serious condition in hospital.
Police in south Moravia are said to be baffled by the repeated disappearance of road signs in the region. Apparently up to ten road signs have disappeared in the first two months of this year, been replaced and disappeared anew. Police say the thefts happen at night and well away from inhabited areas. Although the damage only amounts to some 40,000 crowns the perpetrators could face up to three years in jail. The punishment could be worse if they took road signs vital to traffic safety, but so far the thieves have avoided them.
Tuesday night is expected to be cold and overcast with temps between minus 5 and minus 10 degs C. On Wednedsay morning fog should give way to partly cloudy to overcast skies with scattered sleet or snow showers during the course of the day. Day temps have been forecast at between minus one and plus three degs.
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