Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has defeated his rival, former trade and industry minister Jiri Rusnok, to retain the chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party. In secret balloting on Saturday Mr Spidla received 299 delegate votes versus 147 for Mr Rusnok. A minimum of 273 votes was required to win the post. In the weeks preceding the Social Democrats' party convention dissenting voices within the party had criticised Mr Spidla for making too many concessions to the governing coalition's junior partners, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. Mr Spidla's victory now means that he will continue as chairman of the Social Democratic Party for the next two years.
Cyril Svoboda and Petr Mares, the leaders of the two junior government parties, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, have welcomed Vladimir Spidla's re-election as chairman of the Social Democratic Party, with Mr Mares saying 'it was an opportunity for the government to begin working together more effectively'. Earlier on Saturday both men addressed the Social Democrats' party convention, saying they were in favour of upholding the current governing coalition, and stressing that key tasks lay ahead that were 'more important' than any problems with coalition rule. Questions currently facing the government include: long awaited fiscal and pension reforms, as well as the upcoming referendum on EU accession.
Two Czech skiers were killed on Saturday, and a third is believed dead or close to death, after falling into a 30-metre deep chasm on a closed-off part of Olperer mountain, part of the Hintertux ice-cap in the Tyrol region in Austria. The three fell after a shelf of snow covering the chasm collapsed beneath their feet. Some thirty rescue workers, as well as a rescue helicopter tried to save the fallen skiers, but rescue teams were unable to revive two of the victims recovered. Rescue crews are still working to recover the final skier, 3, 000 metres above sea level.
The commissioner for EU expansion Gunter Verheugen has called the referendum on EU accession the 'decision of the century' for Czechs. Mr Verheugen, who is currently in Prague, spoke to delegates at the Social Democratic Party's national convention, praising Prime Minister Spidla's efforts towards accession. In discussion with Social Democrat delegates the commissioner outlined what he saw as the only two possibilities: to either join the EU outright, or at least become part of the European economic zone.
Officials at the Defence Ministry have revealed the ministry is preparing to ask parliament to approve sending a military field hospital to support US-led coalition forces in Iraq. Under the proposal, lawmakers may be asked to give a green light to the Czech Army's 7th field hospital unit -- with 50 doctors and 100 support staff - to go into operation in or around the city of Basra in southern Iraq. Although plans have not yet been finalised, the field hospital could be accompanied by additional soldiers and could be assigned to care for injured civilians, a ministry spokesman told the German news agency DPA on Friday. If confirmed the unit would become the second Czech military contingent operating in the Gulf. Some 385 army specialists with a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons detection unit have already been stationed in Kuwait.
Around fifty neo-fascist radicals gathered Saturday afternoon in Orlove na Karvinsku in eastern Moravia to demonstrate against the Czech Republic's joining the European Union, as well as to protest the US-led war against Iraq. Around one hundred police monitored the gathering, which took place near a local Roma neighbourhood, confiscating several items that could have been used as weapons if the demonstration had gotten out of hand. Two radicals were also detained by police. A handful of anti-fascist demonstrators also appeared at the protest, however, there were no clashes between the opposing groups.
Sunday is expected to be partly cloudy with daytime temperatures rising to about 16 degrees Celsius.
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