The leaders of the Social Democrats' parliamentary party have resigned following disunity in party ranks over the election of the new Czech president. According to the head of the deputies group, Milan Urban, the move was in reaction to some Social Democrats switching sides to join the opposition and elect party rival Vaclav Klaus, thereby helping to defeat the coalition's joint candidate Jan Sokol. "It is very difficult to lead a parliamentary party when some individuals fail to act as they say they would" Mr. Urban stated.
The Czech parliament will hold a confidence vote in the coalition government on March 11th. The Social Democrat Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla asked for the confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament after deputies of the senior governing party failed to unite behind their own candidate for the presidency. While members of the opposition have welcomed the decision, political analysts say the move is risky since the governing coalition holds a razor thin majority of just one vote in the 200 seat lower house. If the government should lose the vote and fall, new elections would not automatically have to take place. There is speculation about a possible Cabinet overhaul or the setting up of a minority government.
Meanwhile, the Czech crown dropped slightly against the Euro in response to the news. On Tuesday the crown weakened by about 0.1 percent from Monday's close, but analysts say there is no reason to fear prolonged weakness.
A Prague court has sentenced a twenty three year old skinhead to 17 years in prison for racial murder. Vlastimil Pechanec, who pleaded innocent, was found guilty of stabbing to death a young Romany at a disco. Witnesses said the physical attack was preceded by verbal insults of a racist character. The young Roma boy died in hospital several hours later. Pechanec's defense attorney said he intended to appeal the verdict.
The Czech foreign ministry has advised all Czech nationals who may still be on the territory of Iraq, Kuwait or Jordan to leave without delay. In view of security risks from impending war it has advised Czechs not to plan trips to the region until further notice. The ministry has likewise published a list of ten other countries which are considered high risk. Embassy staff, including non essential personnel have been evacuated from the region.
The Czech National Bank has agreed to consider a plan to reopen the troubled Ostrava based bank Union Banka which froze the accounts of 250,000 clients ten days ago, following the Czech government's refusal to provide a 1.5 billion crown bailout. A Czech National Bank spokeswoman said the revival plan, details of which were not disclosed, would be studied over the next three weeks. At the end of that period the National Bank will decide whether to follow through with a threat to cancel Union Banka's license.
The former Czech president Vaclav Havel is expected back from a holiday in the Caribbean on Wednesday or Thursday. Mr. Havel is returning to Prague in order to attend President Klaus' inauguration ceremony at Prague Castle on Friday.
Wednesday should be partly cloudy to overcast with scattered rain showers and day temperatures between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius.
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