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.
After the leadership of the Social Democrats voted against the deal on Thursday evening, Defence Minister Karel Kuhnl and Justice Minister Pavel Nemec - both members of the Freedom Union - quit the cabinet. Seven ministers have now resigned.
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.
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.
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.
The next few days should see sunny spells with rain or even storms in places. Temperatures are expected to reach up to 22 degrees Celsius.
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