Czech Television off the air: public waits for watchdog verdict
The country's public television network, Czech Television, has been taken off the air, as the battle for control of the station intensifies. The new Director General of Czech Television Jiri Hodac, whose appointment last week led to the crisis, cut off all terrestrial broadcasts on Wednesday evening. Both of Czech Televisions channels went silent with a note explaining that unauthorised persons were occupying the station's premises and there would be no programmes until the country's broadcasting watchdog rules on the situation later on Thursday. Rebel journalists, who say Mr Hodac is politically biased, continue to occupy the newsroom.
Mr Hodac appeared to have suffered a serious blow on Wednesday after both the Czech President, Vaclav Havel and the leadership of the ruling Social Democrats called on him to resign. President Havel said that Mr Hodac's appointment by the Czech Television Council, which is controlled by parliament, may have followed the letter of the law, but was "against its sense, its spirit". Mr Havel said the situation was immensely dangerous, noting that the Communists' seizure of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 had also been lawful. His words were immediately condemned by the leader of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, Vaclav Klaus. Meanwhile the leadership of the Social Democrats issued a statement on Wednesday calling for him to step down as a "necessary step" to create room for negotiations.
Outside the Czech Television building some 5,000 people gathered last night to express their support for the journalists occupying the newsroom, the biggest demonstration so far. The journalists, who continue to send news bulletins by cable and satellite, were officially sacked by Mr Hodac on Tuesday, but refused to accept their letters of dismissal from the station's new head of news. Mr Hodac has threatened to use force to remove them from the building, but so far both security guards and police have refused to intervene. The reporters say Mr Hodac has links to Mr Klaus's Civic Democrats, and had previously yielded to pressure from both them and the Social Democrats when he briefly worked as head of news at the station. They say the independence of Czech Television is in serious danger, and have so far raised almost 50,000 signatures calling on Mr Hodac and the Czech Television Council to resign. They are supported by a number of public figures, as well as television unions, most of the media and the majority of the public. The Civic Democrats continue to back Mr Hodac, and the party's deputy chairman, Ivan Langer, is quoted as saying today that the use of force cannot be ruled out.
And the deputy Prime Ministers Pavel Rychetsky and Vladimir Spidla emerged from negotiations with the journalists on Wednesday evening, announcing that the cabinet would discuss amending the law on Czech Television as soon as possible. The law would help create a new independent Council for Czech Television, and the government would ask parliament to approve it immediately. Mr Hodac refused to attend last night's meeting.
Turning to other news now, and several dozen people demonstrated outside the Czech Embassy in Vienna on Wednesday in protest at the Temelin nuclear power station in South Bohemia. The demonstration was peaceful, and protestors dispersed after an hour. Many Austrians are angry at the launch in October of Temelin, a Soviet-designed plant with Western safety technology. The Czech and Austrian governments recently reached a compromise solution, with Prague agreeing on a new environmental impact survey at the plant.
Police in France have arrested a 23-year Czech man suspected of trying to smuggle more than a thousand bags of the dance drug ecstasy from Belgium to Spain. The French news agency said the man had been arrested after police stopped a bus near the town of Villefranche-sur-Sane. The drugs were reportedly discovered under the man's seat by a sniffer dog.
And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. Thursday night will be mostly cloudy, with snow and freezing rain in places and temperatures falling to lows of minus five degrees Celsius. Friday will see snow and rain showers throughout the country, with daytime temperatures reaching a maximum of three degrees Celsius.
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