Daily news summary News of Radio Prague

01-03-2003

Vaclav Klaus elected president of Czech Republic

Politicians and the media have been responding to the election of the conservative former prime minister Vaclav Klaus as the new president of the Czech Republic. Mr Klaus succeeds his long-time Vaclav Havel, who led the country for 13 years after the fall of Communism. Mr Klaus - until recently leader of the opposition Civic Democrats - won by a majority of just two votes in Friday's election, a joint session of the two houses of parliament. He won thanks to the support of the opposition Communist Party and a group of rebel MPs from the ruling coalition, who refused to vote for the coalition's official candidate Jan Sokol.

Arch-rival Havel among first to congratulate new president

Among the first to congratulate Mr Klaus was his predecessor, Vaclav Havel. Mr Havel, currently on holiday abroad, sent a statement via his secretary wishing him the best of luck in his new post. Mr Havel also said he would be pleased to return to the Czech Republic to attend the new president's inauguration, which takes place on Friday at Prague Castle.

U.S. looking forward to close co-operation in "areas of common interest"

In the first foreign reactions to his election, the U.S. State Department congratulated Mr Klaus and said it was looking forward to close co-operation with the Czech Republic in "areas of common interest". Mr Klaus has previously expressed opposition to the use of force in Iraq. Elsewhere, the leaders of Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia have also telephoned Mr Klaus to congratulate him. So far there has been no official reaction from the European Union. Mr Klaus, often described as Euro-sceptic, has clashed with senior EU officials in the past. He describes himself as a "Euro-realist" opposed to what he says is creeping EU federalism.

Question mark hangs over future of centre-left coalition

Mr Klaus's election has raised questions as to the stability of the centre-left coalition, and in particular the position of prime minister Vladimir Spidla, leader of the senior coalition Social Democrats. Friday's rebellion by around 20 coalition MPs and senators - most of whom presumed to be Social Democrats loyal to ex-prime minister Milos Zeman - is the biggest challenge to Mr Spidla's authority since he took over the reigns of the party last year. Three unsuccessful attempts to elect a government candidate could be used as an excuse to unseat him as party leader, when the Social Democrats hold their annual conference later this month. Mr Spidla himself has sought to play down the defeat, saying he can work with Vaclav Klaus.

Klaus: I will not give up membership of Civic Democrats

Mr Klaus himself has said he will no longer attend meetings of his Civic Democratic Party, but has rejected suggestions he will give up his membership of the party he founded in the early 1990s. He told reporters his pledge to be an apolitical president was a sufficient guarantee that he would be impartial. Mr Klaus remains the party's honorary chairman, and will give up his seat in the lower house immediately.

Negative reaction in European press to Klaus win

There has been a mostly negative to the result in the European press. Britain's Guardian newspaper said Mr Klaus's victory had cast doubt on the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union. Meanwhile the leading French dailies Le Figaro and Liberation both described him as a "leading Euro-sceptic." Spain's El Pais newspaper said Mr Klaus represented the antithesis of Mr Havel's humanistic ideals. Austria's Die Presse said Mr Klaus would be a pragmatic partner who would, however, refuse to compromise on issues such as the dispute over the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.

Dalibor Zeleny removed as board chairman of Czech Railways

Turning briefly to other news, the supervisory board of the country's state-owned railway network, Czech Railways, has removed Dalibor Zeleny from the post of chairman of the board of directors. Mr Zeleny will remain in his position of General Director of Czech Railways.

150 demonstrate against war in Iraq

Around 150 people have attended a demonstration against military action in Iraq. The demonstration was organised by the Initiative Against War organisation. Demonstrators later marched through the centre of Prague to the American Embassy.

Weather forecast

Sunday will be a mostly cloudy day, with rain and snow in places. Daytime temperatures will range from 3 to 7 degrees Celsius.

01-03-2003