Pope John Paul II, the first Slav head of the Catholic Church in history, died at just after nine-thirty on Saturday evening. At noon on Sunday, church bells tolled throughout the country to honour the Pontiff. To the head of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Pope was a great person who led an untiring fight for human rights, both before and after the end of the Cold War. The priest and former Czech dissident Tomas Halik pointed to his personal charisma and to his symbolic significance.
Although most Czechs are not practising Catholics - only some four percent of the population attend mass regularly - Pope John Paul II was very popular in the Czech Republic and hugely respected for his role in helping to bring about the fall of communism. Czech was one of the many languages that the Pope spoke, and he visited the Czech Republic three times during his papacy, firstly in 1990 - less than a year after the fall of communism. To the former Czech President and former dissident, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II was "his wise and understanding confessor" who gave him hope and the strength to cherish life.
Upon the news of the Pope's passing, a number of Czech politicians, including President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, sent letters of condolence to the Vatican. Mr Gross valued the Pontiff's firm stance against dictatorial regimes and in a telegram, the outgoing Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda wrote the Pope's pontificate where human dignity, democracy and the fight for human rights were a priority shows the world that it has not just lost the head of the Catholic Church but also a man who stuck to morals even in the most difficult of times.
The Presidents of the Visegrad Four group - Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, on Saturday decided to postpone their annual meeting due to the Pope's passing. Alexander Kwasniewski, Ivan Gasparovic, Ferenc Madl and Vaclav Klaus were scheduled to discuss further Visegrad cooperation, the EU, US-European relations, and developments in Ukraine, in southern Poland this Sunday and Monday. The offices of the heads of state have yet to decide on a new date.
The minority government of Prime Minister Stanislav Gross will ask for a vote of confidence in parliament, Mr Gross said on Sunday. The cabinet made the decision following Friday's demand by Czech President Vaclav Klaus that a confidence vote is called before he appoints new ministers, including replacements for the three Christian Democrat ministers who resigned on Thursday. Mr Gross said the confidence vote will be held in order to stop the government crisis and stressed that the president did not have the right to make such a demand under the constitution.
The leader of the Freedom Union, Pavel Nemec, has asked Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to hold a meeting to discuss the future of the government. The Freedom Union, which is the smaller party in the coalition with the Social Democrats, has decided to leave the government if the entire cabinet refuses to resign. On Friday, the minority government narrowly survived a vote of no confidence, thanks to the Communists who abstained from the vote. On Saturday, Freedom Union Information Technology Minister, Vladimir Mlynar, sent his resignation to the government office, saying he could not be in a government that needs the Communists to stay in power.
Meanwhile, a senior Social Democrat MP, Michal Kraus, said in a TV discussion programme on Sunday that the cabinet would not resign as it would lead to the fall of the government and the rise to power of the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats. Mr Kraus stressed that his party would stay on as a minority government even if the Freedom Union were to depart. In such a case, the Social Democrats would have a mere 70 seats in the 200 seat lower house.
The next few days will have cloudy skies but day-time temperatures are expected to rise steadily to reach a maximum of 19 degrees Celsius by Wednesday.
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