Social Democrat candidate Lubomir Zaoralek has been elected as chairman of the Czech lower house in a second round of parliament voting: the Elections Committee confirmed the result shortly after a secret ballot Thursday afternoon. Earlier in the day, in a first round of voting, Mr Zaoralek failed to clinch the position by receiving just 99 out of the minimum 101 ballots required; his opponent Vaclav Klaus of the Civic Democrats received 76. In the second round Mr Klaus lost two votes to Mr Zaoralek, which were enough for the Social Democrat to secure the chairmanship. Mr Zaoralek's election to the head of parliament was the first test of solidarity for members of the proposed coalition government between the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom-Union-DEU. The new Czech cabinet is to be officially appointed on Monday.
Members of the Austrian parliament discussed on Wednesday what they termed "two obstacles" to Czech membership in the European Union, meaning the controversial Temelin nuclear power station and the post-war Benes Decrees which sanctioned the dispossession and expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia in 1945. The Austrian parliament also issued a statement calling for further talks on the possible closing of the Temelin power station situated close to the Czech-Austrian border. Earlier this year more than 900 thousand Austrians signed a petition in favour of blocking the Czech Republic's accession to the EU unless Temelin is shut down.
The outgoing Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, is likely to become the Social Democrats' candidate for the office of Czech President, the party's deputy leader Zdenek Skromach told journalists on Wednesday. So far the Czech ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, has been mentioned as the party's most likely presidential candidate. By the end of the year, the Social Democrats are to agree on one candidate. Presidential elections are expected to take place early next year when Vaclav Havel's second and final term in office ends.
The European commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, welcomed the
formation of the new Czech government. Mr Verheugen said he was convinced
that the new government would continue with pro-European policies. The Czech
Republic plans to complete EU accession talks this year and could be
admitted within the next enlargement wave in 2004.
Social Democrat leader Vladimir Spidla, who is expected to be appointed prime minister by President Vaclav Havel on Monday, said he was confident the government would achieve its main goal - that is to lead Czechs into the European Union.
The leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party Vaclav Klaus is going to seek re-election as chairman of the Lower House of Parliament. Mr Klaus will compete with Social Democrat candidate Lubomir Zaoralek who is expected to win in the Thursday election as the ruling coalition has a 101-vote majority in the 200-seat chamber.
The three parties involved in talks to put together a new Czech government are expected to sign a final agreement, defining relations between the three partners. The final distribution of ministerial posts is also to be decided, as are the names of individual ministers. Although the two smaller parties the centrist Christian Democrats and the liberal Freedom Union are expected to challenge the Social Democrats on a number of unresolved issues, they say that these are not differences which could endanger the proposed agreement. The agreement in question will commit the three parties to support the governing coalition through its four year term in office. One of the points of contention is whether the coalition agreement should be signed just by the party leaders or by all 101 members of Parliament representing the parties in the coalition.
The 37th Karlovy Vary Film Festival is underway in the renowned west Bohemian spa town. Close to 300 films are being shown in the space of 10 days. The festival traditionally focuses on creative filmmakers from around the world who want to make a difference not a profit- and who often struggle for recognition. The films are also chosen with the aim of bridging the gap between the West and the countries of the former communist block. The festival's high point is the Crystal Globe award, a 20,000 dollar prize given to the festival's best premiere feature production.
Despite traditional bad weather with heavy rain, there has been a party atmosphere over the weekend at the Karlovy Vary international film festival, with concerts and parties alongside a marathon of film screenings. As part of the section devoted to films from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, filmmakers from the region discussed the problems they currently face, in particular difficulties with raising money. Film critic Gergana Dakovska said that only four full-length feature films are made in her native Bulgaria each year. But the young Russian director, Sergej Potemkin was optimistic, saying that support for films in Russia, including film debuts, has increased. Over the weekend, visitors to the festival also had the chance to meet the most famous contemporary Korean director, Kim Ki-Duk, seven of whose films are being shown in Karlovy Vary. We'll be bringing you reports from the festival throughout the week.
Austrian opponents to the Temelin nuclear power plant have said that the
latest problems with plant's second reactor are further evidence of its
flawed design. Plans to integrate the reactor into the Czech national grid
had to be postponed on Friday. A spokesman for the plant, which combines
Soviet and American technologies and is close to the Austria border, said
that the delay was caused by a short circuit in the generator and it would
take several days to establish the precise cause.
And in a connected story, local Austrian politicians, mayors and environmental activists met over the weekend in the border village of Mardetschlag. They said that they wanted to renew dialogue with their counterparts on the Czech side of the border over the future of Temelin. They agreed that it was counterproductive to reduce cooperation between communities and schools on both sides of the border because of the row over the nuclear plant. The meeting was also attended by the mayors of three Czech villages.
Prague's Bethlehem Chapel was packed on Saturday evening for an ecumenical service. It was held to remember the legacy of the Czech reformer Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in the German town of Constance on the 6th July 1415. The Patriarch of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Jan Schwarz, who led the service, said that it was apt that today the Bethlehem Chapel does not belong to any single church or denomination. Jan Hus often preached in the chapel, one of the first places where sermons were given in Czech rather than Latin.