The opposition Civic Democrats swept regional and Senate elections in the Czech Republic on Saturday, finishing ahead of both the Communist Party and the ruling Social Democrats in a key electoral test. Out of a possible 675 regional mandates the right-of-centre Civic Democrats secured 291 seats, followed by the Communists with 157, and the Social Democrats with 105.
The Civic Democrats' exceptional performance means they dominate in 12 of 13 of the country's regions.
The Civic Democrats were equally convincing in the Senate race where one-third of seats was up for grabs. One Civic Democrat candidate won outright, while a further 20 Civic Democrat candidates hold leads going into the second round to be decided in a week's time.
In all 26 Senate seats remain to be decided with the Communist Party, the Social Democrats, the Freedom Union, the Christian Democrats also in contention - as well as smaller parties like the European Democrats and the Greens vying to reach the Senate for the first time.
The weekend's election results - in particular the ruling Social Democrats' poor finish - were greeted as bad news for Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, who took over as chairman of his party in June. The regional and Senate elections were widely gauged as Mr Gross' first serious electoral challenge, a measure of public opinion ahead of parliamentary elections in two years' time. But, his party came up short and some notable Social Democrats have been unable to hide their disappointment.
Mr Gross has himself commented his party's performance by saying he was "not happy" with the results, although he added they were an improvement over his party's dismal finish in European parliamentary elections earlier in the year. Mr Gross also said the low voter turn-out, just shy of 30 percent, had benefited the other parties.
Finally, on Sunday Czech President Vaclav Klaus - who is honorary chairman of the Civic Democratic Party - also commented the election results by issuing a written statement saying that voters had sent an "extraordinarily important signal" to him and Czech society.
In the statement Mr Klaus said that the results of the elections showed the current coalition government was "not steering the country in the right direction".
The Czech Tourist Office has revealed statistics showing that over 72 million tourists visited the Czech Republic in the first three quarters of 2004 - roughly the same as the previous year. The vast majority of visits, however, involve day-trips in which tourists come to the country on short business trips or to shop. According to the tourist office the number of tourists who actually spend at least one night in the country is around 5 million per year. The Czech Tourist Office has reported that the number of visitors from neighbouring countries has actually fallen in 2004, despite a simplification of procedures at border crossings following EU accession in May.
The Czech star hockey player Jaromir Jagr has played his last game in the Czech league and signed with Russia's Omsk. Jagr reached agreement with the club on Saturday; Omsk is currently 12th in the Russian league. Jagr's last game for Kladno, where he had been playing due to the NHL lockout, saw the star forward help down opponents Liberec on a score line of 5-4.
Tennis player Radek Stepanek has missed an opportunity to win his first ATP title - the prestigious Paris Masters. On Sunday the Czech player was downed in the final by Russia's Marat Safin, who had previously won the title in 2000 and 2002. Stepanek lost in three sets 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, making 48 unforced errors to Safin's 18. Safin's win makes him only the 2nd player to ever win the Paris Masters three times. Germany's Boris Becker was the 1st.
Monday is expected to be cloudy with light showers and a maximum daytime temperature of just 5 degrees Celsius.
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