Three days before he steps down as President, Vaclav Havel has come under fire over his public support for United States policy on Iraq. Mr Havel added his name to a list of seven European prime ministers who published an article supporting the U.S. The article, published throughout the world on Thursday, has highlighted deep divisions in Europe over the issue. Several politicians have criticised Mr Havel for failing to consult the government before signing the document. The Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, said he himself did not sign it because the country's position on Iraq was already clear.
The Czech Republic has sent 70 soldiers to Kuwait, bringing the country's anti chemical and biological weapons unit up to a full contingent of 360. The unit has been based in Kuwait since March, working alongside U.S. troops. The U.S sent an official request to the Czech government in January, asking for the anti-chemical unit to be boosted. The Czech parliament approved the request, as well as a measure saying that in the case of an Iraqi attack using weapons of mass destruction, the unit could respond without a new U.N. resolution.
The leaders of the three parties in the ruling coalition, the Social and Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, are to meet on Friday morning to discuss a common presidential candidate capable of gaining enough votes in both chambers of the Czech parliament. The leaders of all the parliamentary parties are expected to meet next Wednesday to agree on further strategy as to the election of a new Czech president. They should decide on the date of the third attempt to elect a new head of state after two inconclusive votes took place earlier this month.
President Vaclav Havel has joined seven other European leaders in signing an article published in major European dailies on Thursday supporting US President George W. Bush's stance on Iraq. In the letter, initiated by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain said the Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represented a clear threat to world security. Among the signatories, Vaclav Havel is the only president, the rest are prime ministers of their respective countries. The representatives of France and Germany did not sign the article.
The leaders from the governing coalition parties the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union have met again to try to agree on a joint candidate in the Czech presidential elections. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told journalists on Wednesday that several names were being discussed but refused to give further information, saying the parties would continue talks. Christian Democrat Jan Kasal did say that possible candidates included non-party members. The coalition talks are aimed at trying to find a candidate with a chance of finding enough support in both houses of parliament to be elected as the successor to outgoing President Vaclav Havel. Under the current system parliament twice failed to elect a new president in January; it is widely considered that failure in a third attempt would lead to a change in the voting system to direct presidential elections.
A new poll released by the CVVM agency on Wednesday has shown that two thirds of the Czech population disapproves of the curreent effort by the US and her allies to lead a possible attack on Iraq as part of the fight against global terrorism. According to the poll less than a quarter of the population supports a possible strike, though only 13 percent of that number said they would back an operation against Iraq without UN Security Council approval. Czech citizens' support of a possible attack against Iraq has been declined steadily since last year: last spring 39 percent of Czechs supported a possible strike, a number which dropped to just 28 percent in November, and a mere 24 percent in the latest poll. According to poll analysts, the public's disapproval of a possible military operation is linked to scepticism an attack would achieve promised goals, such as defeating organised terror.
Czech President Vaclav Havel has received the highest honour of the Slovak state on his last official visit to Slovakia; Mr Havel was given the honour Wednesday by the Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who praised Havel as being one of the most important figures of modern Czech and Slovak history. Vaclav Havel is stepping down as president of the Czech Republic on February 2nd, after 13 years in office. Just before his departure for Slovakia Wednesday Mr Havel stressed the particular symbolic importance of this last visit: both Slovakia and the Czech Republic formed a common state in 1918, but split peacefully into separate countries in 1993. Mr Havel, now 66, was Czechoslovakia's only post-communist president from late 1989 until his resignation in mid-1992, a few months before the break-up of the federation.
The leaders of the three parties in the governing coalition have failed to agree on a joint candidate for president. As they left a meeting in Prague on Tuesday morning, the leader of the Social Democrats, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Christian Democrat chairman Cyril Svoboda and Freedom Union head Petr Mares said they would hold negotiations on the issue with the other parties in parliament during the next three weeks. Two recent attempts to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel have ended in failure.
Some 63 percent of Czechs are planning to take part in a referendum on accession to the European Union, according to a poll carried out by the STEM agency in January. The poll also suggests 47 percent of Czechs are planning to vote Yes to joining the EU, with 19 percent intending to vote against. The government is spending some 200 million crowns on an information campaign ahead of what will be the country's first ever referendum. It takes place on June 15 and 16.
Five days before he steps down, President Vaclav Havel played host to Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Austrian President Thomas Klestil on Tuesday. The two visiting presidents and their wives had lunch at a Prague restaurant with Mr Havel and his wife Dagmar. Also on Tuesday, Mr Havel appointed Jiri Mucha a constitutional court judge, the president's last such appointment before he steps down on Sunday after 13 years in office. On Wednesday Mr Havel is due to visit the Slovak capital Bratislava, on what will be his last foreign trip as president of the Czech Republic.