The Social Democrats have given their endorsement to Miloš Zeman, a former leader of the party, for the presidency. Earlier, the party’s own candidate Jiří Dientsbier had said both Mr. Zeman and Mr. Schwarzenberg were essentially right-wing. Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats’ Přemysl Sobotka and Zuzana Roithová of the Christian Democrats have given their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg.
Miloš Zeman, 68, is regarded as one of the most significant Czech politicians of the last two decades. He transformed the Social Democrats into an election-winning force and was prime minister from 1998 to 2002, under a controversial “opposition agreement” with the Civic Democrats, the party’s nominal chief rivals. Accused by some of coarsening political discourse in the Czech Republic, he failed to become Czech president in bicameral elections in 2003. Karel Schwarzenberg, who is 75, is an immensely wealthy titled prince whose family fled Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup of 1948; after serving as chairman of the International Helsinki Committee, a human rights body, he returned after 1989’s Velvet Revolution and was chancellor to President Václav Havel, to whom he remained close.
Over 500 Czechs cast their ballots in the presidential election in the United States and Canada. The figure represents less than half the number of registered Czech voters in both countries and was lower than in the last Czech parliamentary elections. Voting began in the Western Hemisphere on Thursday, with the first Czechs going to the polls at the country’s diplomatic offices in Brazil and Argentina. Some 54.28 percent of Czech voters living abroad gave their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg, while Mr. Zeman came second among them, with 10.11 percent.
A police officer who on Friday shot his wife in Hradec Králové before aiming the weapon at himself is in a critical condition. The incident took place in a hairdressing salon in the central Bohemian town. The woman was rushed to hospital but died soon afterwards. The General Inspectorate of the Security Services is investigating the incident on account of the shooter being a member of the police force. The man, who is aged 42, formerly played soccer with a Czech first division club. He and his wife are said to have split up over Christmas.
The striker David Lafata has joined Sparta Prague from Jablonec in a three-and-a-half-year deal. Lafata, who is 31, has been the leading scorer in Czech soccer’s top tier for the last two seasons and heads the goals chart this term with 13 so far. The forward has made 23 appearances for the Czech national team and joins Sparta at a time when the club is third in the domestic league and preparing to face Chelsea in the Europa League.
Czechs are voting in the country’s first direct presidential elections. They are choosing from nine candidates to elect a successor to the outgoing president, Vaclav Klaus, whose second term in office ends in March. Polling stations are open from 2pm until 10 pm on Friday and from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 25-26. The turnout in these elections is expected to be higher than usual.
A regional court dealing with cases which fall under the presidential amnesty has halted the prosecution of Judge Jiří Berka who is charged with criminal conspiracy and abuse of office in connection with several suspect bankruptcies. All charges against the judge have been dropped and the court moreover ruled that he should be paid five million crowns in compensation for lost wages. Judge Berka faced ten years in prison for assisting extensive property crime. The state attorney is expected to appeal the decision.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas will face a no-confidence vote in the lower house next Thursday. The proposal has been tabled by the opposition Social Democrats in connection with the controversial amnesty declared by President Klaus and counter-signed by the prime minister. Under Czech law it is the government, not the president, which is ultimately responsible for the decision. The amnesty has come under fire for being too broad and halting high-profile prosecution cases involving corruption, abuse of office and embezzlement.
Members of the public and the arts world gathered at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre at midday on Friday to pay their last respects to the legendary Czech actress Jiřina Jirásková who died on Monday at the age of 81. This was followed by a private memorial service for invited guests which was broadcast live by Czech public television and later in the afternoon Cardinal Dominik Duka celebrated a mass for the late actress at Prague’s Týn Church. Ms. Jirásková spent 60 years on stage at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre and starred in dozens of Czech films.
There has been a significant increase in the number of flu cases around the country. The number of people admitted to hospitals with the H1N1 strain of the flu has risen several-fold with the Plzen region reporting an epidemic and the Moravian and Silesian regions reporting a 32 percent increase in the number of flu patients. Many hospitals have closed their doors to visitors and the health authorities are urging elderly and chronically ill people to get a flu shot while there is still time. Only around five percent of Czechs get vaccinated against the flu.