Sunday, February 2nd, is the last day in Vaclav Havel's final term as president of the Czech Republic, with Mr Havel stepping down after thirteen years. Earlier Sunday the President and the First Lady Dagmar Havlova laid a wreath at the statue of Czechoslovakia's founding president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk; the presidential couple also visited Prague's memorial commemorating victims of Communism as well as a cemetery for political prisoners. A final stop took place at the statue of St Wenceslas, on Prague's Wenceslas Square, an important symbolic site of events in recent Czech history. The site witnessed both the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and mass demonstrations which led to the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989.
Outgoing President Vaclav Havel has officially transferred 'presidential powers' to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the speaker of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek. Mr Havel's mandate ends on Sunday, February 2nd at midnight, leaving the Czech Republic without a president for an interim period. Two election attempts in January were inconclusive, with none of the candidates in the running finding enough support in a joint session of parliament to get elected. The presidential powers are passed on to the Prime Minister and speaker of the Lower House according to the constitution - both Prime Minister Spidla and house speaker Zaoralek stated on Sunday they would use the 'powers' conservatively to ensure the smooth running of the state. For the time being Mr Spidla will fill the presidential role on the international stage, signing international agreements, serving as commander in chief of the country's armed forces, and addressing foreign diplomats. Mr Zaorelek, on the other hand, will take up presidential duties at home, gaining the authority, for example, to name judges to the constitutional court, to name members to the council of the Central Bank, and to call a referendum on EU accession.
Representatives from the governing coalition have addressed three individuals as possible candidates in a 3rd round of Czech presidential elections. All three have academic, rather than political, backgrounds: Ivan Vilhelm is the rector of Charles University in Prague, Pavel Klener is a pro-rector at the same institution, while Helena Illnerova is the head of the Academy of Sciences. So far all discussions between party members and potential candidates have been non-binding. On Tuesday MPs from the senior coalition member the Social Democratic Party will meet to decide if they will back any of the three.
President Vaclav Havel has officially accepted the resignation of the head of the Czech Statistics Office Marie Bohata. Mrs Bohata resigned on Friday after the statistics body of the European Union - Eurostat - concluded that her office bore partial responsibility for a gross miscalculation of last year's economic indicators. Eurostat said the Czech Statistics Office and the Czech Customs Authority were both responsible for the release of erroneous foreign trade deficit figures for the third quarter of 2002. The accounting error - involving a sum of well over 1 billion dollars - forced a total re-evaluation of the Czech economy, including public finance and interest rates. Meanwhile, unofficial sources have told the Czech news agency CTK that Mrs Bohata's post will most likely be filled by a former deputy at the Statistics Office Jan Fischer.
The Federation of Prague Tram Drivers has announced its members will strike on Monday, February 3rd. From 4 am to midnight Monday no trams will roll out on Prague routes. Prague's tram drivers are upset by the fact they do not earn as much as bus drivers in the city, even though both groups are employed by a single transit authority. A comparative study commissioned by the Transit Authority and Town Hall, comparing job difficulty and skills, ranked tram drivers lower on the scale, determining a difference in pay. Along with Monday's strike the head of the Federation of Tram Drivers Antonin Dub has called for the head of the Transit Authority, Milan Houfek, to resign.
Czech artist Jiri David's 'Neon Heart' that adorned Prague Castle for the last several months has been turned off as planned, to coincide with Vaclav Havel's final days as president of the Czech Republic. The large neon heart, echoing Mr Havel's signature trademark and inspired by Mr Havel's ideals, was turned off on Friday evening. The heart had dominated Prague's historic skyline provoking almost endless debate among the Czech public over its artistic value. There was more 'controversy' on the heart's 'final day', when Greenpeace representatives hung a banner near the structure protesting possible military action against Iraq.
Sunday will see clear skies and colder weather: daytime temperatures will reach highs between -6 and -2 degrees Celsius.
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