Pernstejn Castle near the city of Brno has been damaged by a fire which started around 6 am on Friday. A collapsed roof is thought to have destroyed a store containing valuable furniture and around 300 paintings. The cause of the fire is not yet known, but the damage is estimated at around 100 million Czech crowns (over 4 million US dollars). The Gothic-Renaissance castle is considered one of the finest in Moravia; it was built in the 13th century and belonged to the Pernstejn noble family.
Meanwhile, Mr Gross has paid almost 900,000 Czech crowns (around 40,000 US dollars) to businessman Rostislav Rod in the latest turn in the controversy over the financing of the prime minister's flat. Mr Rod says he lent the money to Mr Gross's uncle, who then lent it to the prime minister. Allegations of impropriety on the part of Mr Gross and his wife sparked the ongoing political crisis.
With the Czech government in disarray, President Vaclav Klaus said on
Friday he would push for early elections unless the three parties in the
collapsed coalition of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross agree to form a new
government. Mr Klaus said he would not allow a third alternative - a
minority Social Democrat government.
The president said he was angry that Mr Gross's party had rejected a deal on the creation of a new majority government with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union to lead the country until elections next year. Under this agreement, agreed late on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Gross could have stood down without the need for early elections.
Prime Minister Gross said on Friday he would push once again for what
he calls a "pro-European" government without senior coalition party
representatives. It was the presence of senior Christian Democrat and
Freedom Union figures in the newly agreed cabinet that led the Social
Democrats to reject the agreement.
Jan Kohout, the career diplomat chosen to replace Stanislav Gross as prime minister, has returned to Brussels, where he is the Czech ambassador to the European Union.
Czech international goalkeeper Petr Cech is one of six players short listed for the English Professional Footballers' Association's prestigious player of the year award, after an extremely successful first season at Chelsea. The 22-year-old, who comes from the west Bohemian town of Plzen, has set a number of records in the Premier League. He was recently voted second best goalkeeper in the world.
The leadership of the Social Democratic Party has not approved Thursday's
agreement with the other two parties of the collapsed ruling coalition,
the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. The parties originally
agreed to re-join forces and form a new cabinet, allowing Prime Minister
Stanislav Gross to resign after months of turmoil and averting early
elections but the Social Democrats have not ratified the agreement. The
chairman of the lower house, Social Democrat Lubomir Zaoralek, said that
the party's leadership insists on their earlier proposal to form a
pro-European coalition cabinet which would not include the leaders of the
three coalition parties.
The deal, approved by the three parties' negotiators in the early hours of Thursday meant to pave the way for Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to quit over a housing scandal and be replaced, probably by his preferred candidate, European Union ambassador and rank-and-file Social Democrat Jan Kohout.
A new poll conducted by the CVVM agency suggests that around seventy-five percent of Czechs believe that politicians should resign over unclear property or financial situations even if it has not been proved that they broke the law. The respondents were much less critical of infidelity in marriage; only 25 percent of them considered it as a reason for resignation from a political post. Respondents were also very critical of unauthorised use of academic titles.
Meanwhile, the national committee of the second largest coalition
party, the Christian Democrats, has approved the original agreement of
the three parties and even nominated their candidates for the vacated
ministerial posts. Party chairman Miroslav Kalousek has called on the
Social Democrats to approve the original deal.
Thursday's events mark another turn in a drawn-our crisis in the Czech government coalition which started two months ago after the Christian Democrats called on Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to step down over the controversy surrounding the financing of his Prague flat and his wife's business dealings.
Stanislav Gross held the post of Czech prime minister for less than a year. He took over from Vladimir Spidla, who resigned last June after government parties - including his Social Democrats - were routed in the European Parliament elections. Mr Gross also replaced Mr Spidla as chairman of the Social Democrats. While known as a negotiator rather than a visionary, the European Union's youngest prime minister and former railway worker failed in weeks of talks to win enough backing from his political colleagues to continue amid a scandal over his family's finances.
Earlier, the leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, called for the formation of a coalition of all parties except the Communists, which would lead the country to early elections in November. Under this proposal, such elections would be held at the same time as a referendum on the European Union Constitution. None of the parties concerned have welcomed the plan.