New Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka, elected by delegates at the party’s congress in Brno on Friday, said he wants his party to form a consistent opposition to the current government while offering its own brand of “socially just reforms”. On Friday the 39-year-old former finance minister faced a close contest against rival Michal Hašek, the governor of South Moravia, who had been seen by some delegates as the more moderate of the two. Despite his defeat, Mr Hašek was elected the party’s principal deputy leader later in the evening. Delegates have since voted on the final five members of the top party leadership: they are seasoned Social Democrats Lubomír Zaorálek and Zdeněk Škromach, former supreme state attorney Marie Benešová, Martin Starec, and Jiří Dienstbier, jr.
In related news, the former interior minister Martin Pecina, unsatisfied with the results of the Social Democrat congress, has said he will give up his seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The MP told internet news website iDnes that he respected the result but would not keep his seat as he disagrees with the party's policy towards the coalition cabinet. He also made clear he had been given little room to operate within the top party leadership, either as a shadow cabinet minister or deputy leader. Mr Pecina had supported Michal Hašek for party chairman. The politician – who rose to prominence as the former head of the Czech National Library – said that while he would give up his post, he would not give up his membership in the Social Democratic Party.
At the party congress, Social Democrat delegates elected former post-1989 Czechoslovak deputy prime minister Valtr Komárek as their honorary chairman, succeeding the late Slavomír Klaban in the post. In his speech ahead of the vote Mr Komárek, an economist and the sole candidate for the honorary position, said that the Social Democrats needed to try and change the political direction of the country, focussing on the development of the nation, increasing levels of education and improving the economy. Mr Komarek was an advisor to the revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara in the 1960s and is the former head of the prognostics institute where, under communism, he worked with other notable figures such as Miloš Zeman (later prime minister) and economist Václav Klaus, who is the Czech head-of-state.
Social Democrat Jiří Dienstbier, jr, will face the mayor of Kladno, Dan Jiránek of the right-wing Civic Democrats, in the second round of the contest for Kladno’s senatorial post. The post was left open following the death of notable post-1989 politician Jiří Dienstbier, sr, earlier this year. His son picked up 44 percent of the votes in the first round, compared to Mr Jiránek’s 27 percent – a difference of around 5,000 votes. The race is an important one for the Social Democrats, as a Dienstbier victory will allow them to retain their majority in Parliament’s upper house.
Ex-president Václav Havel, suffering from a case of acute bronchitis, remains in hospital although his condition is said to be improving. The 74-year-old former dissident was admitted to hospital on March 8 and has been receiving antibiotics; he has been prone to this type of ailment in the past, having had half of a lung together with a malignant tumour removed in 1996. His health also suffered through his imprisonment under the Communist regime. Additional details in his current treatment have not been released. Originally Mr Havel’s office expressed the hope the former head-of-state would be able to attend the premiere of his first film, Leaving, on March 22.
A 41-year-old suspect charged with the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in Prague’s Trója district in October, will remain in custody as police continue their investigation, a Prague judge ruled on Friday. The little girl’s body was discovered earlier this week, and the judge issued the ruling as police await the results of tests which could provide direct evidence against the suspect including fingerprints or DNA samples, the court’s spokesman said. Police have already established that the suspect was in the area at the time of the murder and his DNA was found on the girl’s schoolbag. The suspect has until now denied any involvement in the child’s killing and has reportedly refused to cooperate with investigators.
The Czech film director Věra Chytilová, known worldwide for her work during the 1960s Czech New Wave, was hospitalised after falling ill on Saturday morning. The 82-year-old filmmaker reportedly had a private meeting at the headquarters of public broadcaster Czech TV, when she fell ill. The spokeswoman for Prague’s emergency services said an ambulance was called to take Mrs Chytilová to hospital. No further details have been released at the patient’s request. Some of Věra Chytilová’s most famous films include Daisies and The Inheritance.
Czech ski cross competitor Tomáš Kraus won bronze in the season’s final World Cup freestyle event on Saturday in Norway. Canadian competitor Christopher Delbosco came first, and Switzerland’s Netzer second. It is the second time this season that Kraus - a two-time former world champion - finished on the podium. Overall on the World Cup circuit he finished 7th. After the result the Czech said he was happy with his season, especially over improvements in the second half. During the season he finished fourth in three races, including the World Championships.
In the National Hockey League, Washington Capitals’ goalie Michal Neuvirth blanked the New Jersey Devils on Friday to earn his 4th shutout of the season. The goaltender stopped 33 shots to backstop the Capitals to a 3:0 win. The Capitals are in a comfortable second-place in the Eastern Conference. In other action, Czech forward Radim Vrbata racked up one goal and one assist for Phoenix in the team’s 3:1 win over Vancouver.
Foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg says he believes the UN’s resolution on Libya could lead to peace talks. These he says could be complicated by the fact that the Libyan opposition is a highly disparate group. Mr Schwarzenberg has been hesitant regarding the idea of Western military intervention in Libya; he has however condoned the UN resolution to allow aerial intervention on behalf of insurgents. The Libyan regime declared a ceasefire shortly following the resolution, though fighting continued in some areas as of Friday afternoon.
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