Czechs have begun voting in a historic referendum on joining the European Union. Polls opened to the public at 2pm Friday. Among public figures who cast their ballots early in the afternoon were former president Vaclav Havel, who all along has indicated his support for the European Union, and current President Vaclav Klaus, who refrained from indicating this week which way he would cast his vote. Asked on Friday as he left the voting booth whether he would reveal his decision at last, the president had this to say:
"Definitely not. You know, I am absolutely sure my vote was the right one, and you may just guess."
Mr Klaus was also asked by journalists how he gauged the importance of the referendum for the Czech Republic overall:
"Well, it's an important moment in our effort to become, after thirteen years a normal, standard European country. In some respects the vote will be part of the whole process."
The polls close on Friday at 10pm local time. On Saturday they will reopen at 8am till 2pm, when final ballots must be cast. Unconfirmed results should be made available almost immediately after polls close. 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 that between 70 - 75 percent of those who come to the polls will vote for accession.
The chairman of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek has levelled criticism at Czech President Vaclav Klaus, as well as one of the Czech representatives at the European Convention, Jan Zahradil. Speaking shortly before the polls on European accession opened in the Czech Republic on Friday, Mr Zaoralek told journalists Mr Klaus' and Mr Zahradil's stances on the EU showed a 'lack of courage'. Mr Zaoralek also added that he felt 'laments' or 'taking offence' over the future of Europe were hardly beneficial for the Czech Republic. On Thursday it was Jan Zahradil who walked out of the European Convention complaining the agenda had become too federalist. An MP for the opposition Civic Democrats, Mr Zahradil stated the Convention was being manipulated by representatives of the national parliaments.
A state prosecutor has stopped legal proceedings against Jiri Pasovsky, the 72 year-old doctor from Melnik accused of shooting dead a Nigerian diplomat in February at the Nigerian Embassy in Prague. On Friday prosecutor Stepanka Laznova chose to stop proceedings on the grounds of 'insanity', ruling that Mr Pasovsky required psychiatric treatment. He will now be transferred to a Prague mental hospital, where his condition will be assessed before a final court ruling decides on a sentence for his treatment. The accused had admitted to the police that he had committed the murder out of hopelessness after a Nigerian company stripped him of several million Czech crowns in what was apparently a fraudulent business deal.
The Czech national carrier CSA have reached an agreement with pilots that they will continue flying charter flights even if it comes to a strike. The majority of the 350 pilots employed by the carrier have announced they will begin to strike on Tuesday, June 17th, because their demands have not been met - an improvement of conditions and better contracts. But, because pilots do not want to complicate matters for vacationers, the president of the pilots' union (CZALPA) has said that pilots will continue flying irregular charter flights. Three such flights are set for the first day of the strike alone. Normally, on a regular day, CSA sees an average of 160 flights, transporting 10,000 travellers. A strike would see the carrier lose some 30 million crowns per day.
Saturday is expected to be mostly cloudy with daytime temperatures of 26 degrees Celsius.