Members of the centre-left coalition have been urging people to say "Yes" to the European Union in this weekend's referendum. Led by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, ministers in the Social Democrat-dominated cabinet walked the streets and held special press conferences to persuade people to go to the polls. President Vaclav Klaus - often described as a Euro-sceptic - has urged people to vote in the plebiscite, but has refused to recommend EU membership to his citizens. Neither will he say which way he himself will vote.
On Thursday President Klaus received his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek at Prague Castle, and repeated that EU membership should be viewed realistically and without illusions. Mr Klaus said once again that people must realise EU accession was a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage based on love. He told reporters that while he had not said which way he would vote, he had always tried to explain to people the reasons why the Czech Republic should "eventually" join the EU.
Polls open at 2pm on Friday, and close at 2pm on Saturday. Unconfirmed results should be available almost immediately. There is no minimum turnout needed for the referendum to be declared valid, but the vote is binding: if a majority of people vote "Yes" to joining the EU, there will be no need for the parliament to ratify accession. In the event of a "No" vote, the government can ask the President to hold a second referendum in two years' time. The latest opinion polls suggest around 75 percent will vote in favour of accession, although a low turnout could reduce that margin considerably.
Meanwhile Jan Zahradil, one of the three Czech representatives on the European Convention on the future of Europe, walked out of the body on Thursday complaining the agenda was becoming too federalist. Mr Zahradil, an MP for the opposition Civic Democrats, said the Convention was being manipulated by representatives of the national parliaments. The European Convention will present its proposal for a new European Constitution to EU leaders at next week's summit in Thessaloniki.
A senior member of the Communist Party has said his party wants to hold talks with the ruling Social Democrats on abolishing the so-called "lustration law", which bans officials of the former Communist regime from holding senior public posts. Pavel Kovacik, head of the Communist MPs in the lower house, said the law should be abolished by May 2004, when the Czech Republic is due to join the European Union.
Three Czechs have received prison sentences from Pilsen Regional Court for the murder of Erich Kunder, the mayor of the German town of Roekingen. Roman Cabrada received 18 years and Miroslav Kral 16 years for the murder while their accomplice, Iveta Koeppova, got a four-year sentence. Ms Koeppova, a prostitute, lured Mr Kunder to Mr Cabrada's flat, where he was killed before being buried in the woods. The culprits also stole his car and used his credit card to withdraw 62,000 crowns from a cash machine.
Friday will be another hot and sultry day, but cloudy with the chance of thunderstorms in most parts of the country. Temperatures in the daytime will range from 24 to 28 degrees Celsius.
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