Politicians and the media have been responding to the election of the conservative former prime minister Vaclav Klaus as the new president of the Czech Republic. Mr Klaus succeeds his long-time Vaclav Havel, who led the country for 13 years after the fall of Communism. Mr Klaus - until recently leader of the opposition Civic Democrats - won by a majority of just two votes in Friday's election, a joint session of the two houses of parliament. He won thanks to the support of the opposition Communist Party and a group of rebel MPs from the ruling coalition, who refused to vote for the coalition's official candidate Jan Sokol.
There has been a mostly negative to the result in the European press. Britain's Guardian newspaper said Mr Klaus's victory had cast doubt on the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union. Meanwhile the leading French dailies Le Figaro and Liberation both described him as a "leading Euro-sceptic." Spain's El Pais newspaper said Mr Klaus represented the antithesis of Mr Havel's humanistic ideals. Austria's Die Presse said Mr Klaus would be a pragmatic partner who would, however, refuse to compromise on issues such as the dispute over the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.
Among the first to congratulate Mr Klaus was his predecessor, Vaclav Havel. Mr Havel, currently on holiday abroad, sent a statement via his secretary wishing him the best of luck in his new post. Mr Havel also said he would be pleased to return to the Czech Republic to attend the new president's inauguration, which takes place on Friday at Prague Castle.
The former prime minister Vaclav Klaus has been elected Czech president. In a third round of voting, Mr. Klaus received 142 votes in the two houses of Parliament. His sole rival for the post, the coalition's candidate Jan Sokol, received 124 votes altogether. Although the vote was anonymous it is believed that Mr. Klaus won with the help of communist votes and votes from members of the governing coalition who failed to support their own candidate. Political analysts predict that Mr. Sokol's defeat in the elections will seriously weaken the centre right governing coalition and undermine the position of Social Democrat leader and prime minister Vladimir Spidla. According to the CTK press agency Prime Minister Spidla reacted angrily to the lack of discipline within his party's ranks in the course of the afternoon, threatening a Cabinet reshuffle or even a government demise if the Social Democrats failed to stand as one man behind coalition candidate Jan Sokol. After the official results were announced Prime Minister Spidla congratulated Vaclav Klaus and said that a government demise was not on the agenda. Mr. Klaus likewise received congratulations from his predecessor Vaclav Havel. In his first statement for the media Mr. Klaus said he intended to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
Friday will see another attempt to elect a new Czech president. Both houses of the Czech parliament will meet at Prague Castle on Friday morning for the third time in six weeks to try and choose a new head of state in a secret ballot. The two candidates for the post are: the honorary chairman of the Civic Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who received the most votes in the previous two elections, and the ruling coalition's nominee, university professor and former Education Minister Jan Sokol. The Czech Republic has been without a president since February 2, when Vaclav Havel's second and final term of office ended. If Friday's vote fails again to produce a new head of state, the legislators are likely to start debate on the introduction of direct presidential election.
The lower house has also refused a government-proposed bill on pensions for former presidents. The legislation was meant to take effect on May 1. Former president Vaclav Havel, whose term expired on February 2, was to be the first to take advantage of it. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, who had submitted the bill, told journalists after the vote that most deputies probably did not want presidents to have any special privileges after their term expires.
Czech exports to the European Union got off to a surprisingly strong start at the beginning of the year, rising in January by almost eight percent year-on-year to 74 billion crowns. Economists, however, are warning against early optimism, saying the numbers on Czech exports do not reflect negative economic trends in neighbouring Germany. Another factor somewhat distorting the current figures: a 3 percent drop in Czech exports last year. Some Czech economists expect positive growth in exports in 2003 to rise by more than ten percent by the end of the year, stimulating overall economic growth. Seventy percent of Czech exports go to the EU, with around half of that going to Germany. Dominant exports to EU countries include automobiles, electrical appliances, office tools, and computers.
The ruling coalition has officially nominated university professor Jan Sokol as the government's candidate for president. A total of 97 of the 101 coalition deputies in the lower house signed Mr Sokol's nomination. The two houses of parliament meet in a joint session on Friday in a third attempt to elect a successor to Vaclav Havel, who stepped down as president three weeks ago. Mr Sokol faces former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, nominated by the opposition Civic Democrats. Every vote will be crucial if he is to defeat Mr Klaus on Friday, and he spent Tuesday lobbying for support among Social Democrat MPs, several of whom have refused to back him.
A 72-year-old man who shot dead a senior Nigerian diplomat in Prague last week is being given psychiatric treatment in a prison hospital. The elderly man, who reportedly lost his life savings in an oil investment scam, has been charged with murder and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is said to be severely traumatized and prison officials say he might try to commit suicide if left unattended.