A deepening Czech recession has led to intensified calls for a more powerful majority cabinet
A deepening Czech recession and poor marks in meeting EU membership requirements have led this week to intensified calls for a more powerful majority cabinet to replace premier Milos Zeman's minority government. Analysts say the collapse of Zeman's cabinet, in office since July, or its reformation to include other parties is unlikely to happen soon, but calls for change from politicians on all sides may mean a tough 1999 for the ruling Social democrats. The economy contracted by 2.1 percent in the first nine months of 1998 and modest growth at best is likely this year. The government must also get the country into shape to join the European Union after a European Commission report said in November there had been a "worrying slowdown" in membership preparations. Zeman's hold on power currently depends on a controversial deal reached with the main opposition Civic democratic party of his arch rival, former premier Vaclav Klaus. Four small right-of-centre opposition parties have said they are willing to talk to either big party about forming a majority cabinet, but their offer has not met with understanding from either the Social or the Civic democrats.
The introduction of European structural funds, especially the European Social Fund, was the main theme discussed at an international seminar which ended in Prague on Saturday. Before entering the EU, the Czech Republic has to get ready to implement a system under which financial aid for the development of regions might flow-in from four European structural funds. The most important are the European regional and development fund, the European fund for agricultural assistance and the European social fund. The seminar was held under the auspices of the chairman of the senatorial Committee for Foreign affairs, defence and security, Michael Zantovsky.
The Iraqi consul in the Czech Republic, Dzabir Salim, is said to have asked for asylum in Germany or Great Britain, according to the Arab newspaper Az-Zaman published in London and quoting the AP news agency. Referring to diplomatic sources in Prague, the paper writes that Salim was in charge of controlling the Iraqi intelligence services in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia and that he might taken the Iraqi encryption codes with him when he fled from Prague. The AP agency noted, though, that this information had not been verified. The Iraqi diplomat was responsible for last year's diplomatic campaign against Radio Free Europe's broadcasts to Iraq from Prague.
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