The speaker of the Lower House, Lubomir Zaoralek, has set February 28th as the official date for a third round of Czech presidential elections to try and elect a successor to former president Vaclav Havel, who stepped down last Sunday. Midnight, on Tuesday, February 25th, will the final deadline for deputies and senators to submit the names of presidential contenders. At the moment the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, two parties in the country's governing coalition, are attempting to come up with a joint candidate, while the opposition Civic Democrats are backing former party chairman Vaclav Klaus. Many observers still say, however, that the chances of quickly finding a successor to former president Vaclav Havel remain low. If parliament fails to elect a president on February 28th, the Czech Republic will remain without a figurehead for several months, before changes in the constitution would lead to a direct presidential vote.
On Friday, just a few hours after the speaker of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek announced the date for new presidential elections, all 26 Civic Democrat senators in the Upper House voted unanimously to nominate Vaclav Klaus. In the first two sets of elections in January Mr Klaus was nominated first by Civic Democrat MPs.
The Czech police have announced they have smashed a counterfeiting gang specialising in printing illegal copies of large-denomination currency. Three men were arrested and their equipment seized as part of a police sweep in eastern Bohemia, in the towns of Hradec Kralove and Uherske Hradiste. The undercover operation dubbed 'Governor' first brought results in January outside a McDonald's restaurant, where detectives made the arrests and seized 1,700 fake bills, worth 5,000 crowns, or about 172 dollars each. Later police uncovered the illegal printing shop itself. The Czech National Bank reports that most of the country's counterfeiting involves 500 and 1,000 crown bills; last year about 4,000 fake Czech bank notes, 1,200 fake US dollars, and 300 fake euros, were confiscated by police.
A former consulate official, American Alexander Meer, has confessed to issuing illegal visas while working at the consulate section of the US embassy in Prague in the years 1999 to 2002. A US Embassy attaché told Czech Radio Mr Meer had admitted to issuing some eighty illegal visas, mostly to Ukrainian and Slovak nationals. Mr Meer's confession has been entered at a federal court; he now faces a 250, 000 dollar fine, as well as up to ten years in prison. The American's case follows an earlier incident in 1998, when a non-American consulate employee was arrested for helping members of a prostitution ring obtain visas for Czech prostitutes operating in the US.
Czech Finance Minister Bohumil Sobotka has warned that a request by the lottery company Sazka, asking the state to guarantee an investment of 6 billion crowns towards the construction of a new ice hockey arena in Prague, would be disadvantageous for the state. Mr Sobotka made the statement at a press conference on Friday, saying the six-billion-crown sum was too high, since there was a risk the state would have to cover the investment in the end. The Finance Minister added, in his view, that it was not correct that the government had been informed so late about the need for a guarantee. Construction has already begun on the new ice hockey stadium being prepared for the World Ice Hockey Championships to be hosted by Prague in 2004. The government will make a final decision on a possible state guarantee for a bank loan next Wednesday.
Saturday is expected to be cloudy with a chance of snowfall and a daytime temperature of - 1 degree Celsius.
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