Politicians and soldiers have expressed their surprise and disappointment at the resignation of Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. President Vaclav Klaus told reporters the decision was a serious matter, and that he would wait until he had spoken to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla before deciding whether to accept Mr Tvrdik's resignation. Mr Spidla has said he wants more time to consider the resignation, and will wait until next week before he speaks to the president.
Mr Tvrdik submitted his resignation on Thursday morning in protest at planned cuts in defence spending as part of the government's finance reforms. The minister, well respected both within the cabinet and among regular soldiers, had masterminded widespread reform of the armed forces to help create a professional army by 2006. Many of his reforms were based on the government spending some 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, as promised to NATO. But under the recently unveiled package of reforms, defence spending is to be cut to two percent.
Meanwhile soldiers serving with the Czech Army's field hospital in the Iraqi city of Basra have expressed their dismay at Mr Tvrdik's resignation. The commander of the field hospital said he hoped the minister would reconsider. Sources at NATO headquarters in Brussels said NATO officials were also taken aback by the move. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson held talks with Mr Tvrdik earlier this week in Prague, during the alliance's Parliamentary Assembly meeting.
The government is to launch the final stage of its campaign to encourage citizens to take part in the referendum on joining the European Union in two weeks' time. The final stage will be launched on Sunday, with a series of adverts on television. Most Czechs are in favour of their country joining the EU, but public apathy has raised fears of a low turnout in the referendum. The existing government campaign has been criticised by the opposition and President Klaus as superficial and naïve.
Meanwhile a concert in support of EU membership planned for Prague's Old Town Square has been cancelled, after councillors on the opposition-controlled council decided not to allow the event. They said the concert, to be opened by former President Vaclav Havel, would be too loud. Prague City Council is controlled by the opposition Civic Democrats. The party supports EU membership, but says it's opposed to further European integration.
President Klaus met diplomats from around a dozen Arab countries on Thursday at a lunch hosted by the Saudi Arabian embassy. The diplomats included representatives of Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.
Friday will be another hot and sunny day, with temperatures in the daytime reaching highs of 28 degrees Celsius.
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