The Czech Republic's top officials attended a memorial ceremony on Saturday on the site of Lidice, the Central Bohemian village that the Nazis razed to the ground 62 years ago in retaliation for the assassination of the Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. Speaking at the ceremony, President Vaclav Klaus said that Europe had a new chance to overcome the wounds of the past. Both President Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla criticised attempts at revising history and playing down the Lidice atrocity. On June 10th 1942, 173 men were shot and the women and children were transported to concentration camps. Of the children only seventeen survived.
Exit polls for the Czech Republic's first ever European Parliament elections, carried out by the SC&C agency for Czech Television, suggest a comfortable victory for eurosceptic parties. They estimate that the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have won 31 percent of the vote, followed by the largely unreconstructed opposition Communists with 17 percent. According to the exit polls, support for the ruling Social Democrats of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla collapsed with only 10.5 percent of the vote. They are closely followed by the strongly pro-EU European Democrats with 10 percent and the Independents grouped around former media magnate Vladimir Zelezny with 8.5 percent. The poll puts the number of votes for the Christian Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, at around 8 percent. Preliminary estimates suggest only a 29-percent turnout, despite analysts predicting that 40 percent of the electorate would turn out over the two days.
The Czech Republic was the first of the new European Union member states where voters went to the polls, to elect 24 members of the European Parliament from almost 800 candidates from 31 political parties and groupings. In line with EU legislation, counting will not begin until 10 pm on Sunday after voting has wrapped up in all 25 EU member states.
The Defence Minister, Miroslav Kostelka, paid a brief visit on Friday to the Czech special forces unit in Afghanistan. The elite troops from the Prostejov military base are on a 6-month mission in the mountains of Afghanistan as part of the US-led anti-terrorist operation Enduring Freedom. They are being deployed in operations involving fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters. Minister Kostelka said the Czech soldiers had earned great respect from the allied units.
In reaction to the exit poll results, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla
said the government was prepared to hold out to the end of its
four-year mandate in 2006 but he acknowledged his party's defeat.
"I can see a number of reasons for our party's poor showing. It is very difficult to take over in such a turbulent time. Also, at the moment our party is searching for new, more modern policies. The third reason, I think, is the extremely low turnout, favouring parties with a hard core of faithful voters, which isn't the case of the Social Democrats."
The opposition Civic Democrats' top candidate for the European Parliament, Jan Zahradil, called the election result a symbolic "vote of no confidence" for the government. He said the reason behind his party's election success was the fact that they presented a consistent European manifesto and also a strong opposition alternative to the policies of the Social Democrat-led government. Mr Zahradil also commented on the low turnout.
"Many people don't know exactly what the European Union will mean for them, both in the positive and negative senses. Such people are less motivated to come out and vote. I think the low turnout is also a response to the pro-European propaganda of the last few years."
The Justice Minister Karel Cermak has announced his decision to hand in his resignation. He said the reason behind his move was the government's decision to cut end-of-year bonuses for judges. The 69-year-old former head of the Czech Bar Association was appointed Justice Minister in September 2003. He replaced Pavel Rychetsky who left the post to become the chairman of the Czech Republic's Constitutional Court.
For the first time ever, Czechs will be sending their own elected representatives to the European Parliament. Czechs were the first of the 10 new EU member states to vote in the elections with polling stations opening at 2 pm on Friday throughout the Czech Republic and closing at 10 in the evening. The voting is to continue on Saturday, with the polling stations opening at 8 in the morning and closing at 2 in the afternoon. The final surveys released before voting got underway on Friday suggested that about 30-40 percent of the 8 million-plus Czechs who are eligible to vote were likely to do so. Over 730 people are in the running for the 24 seats allotted to the Czech Republic in the European Parliament, representing 31 different political parties and groupings.
The police have brought criminal charges against Jan Karas, the doctor who on Monday drove his car into a two-year-old girl and her mother. The accident occurred on the grounds of Prague's Vinohrady teaching hospital, where Dr. Karas held a high position. A deputy state prosecutor said that Dr. Karas had been charged with drunk driving and causing grievous bodily harm. The two-year-old girl, who suffered serious head injuries and damage to her internal organs, is being kept in hospital under anaesthesia, is due to undergo additional surgery next week.
The Czech national football squad arrived in Portugal on Thursday afternoon to begin their final training sessions ahead of their opening match in the Euro 2000 championship. This coming Tuesday, the Czech Republic faces Latvia, who have never before made it to the European Championship, and are not expected to pose much of a challenge for the Czech team.
Czech police are investigating two more football officials who have been implicated in a bribery scandal that erupted last month. Prosecutor Pavel Pukovec told Czech Radio that football referee Petr Rehor is suspected of having agreed to accept a bribe to favour Synot in its match against Zlin in the top Czech football division. Meanwhile an official of Synot, Igor Stefanko, is being prosecuted for offering a bribe of 200,000 crowns (about $8,000) to the Slovak referee Eduard Cichy to influence a March 13 match at which Synot faced Teplice. So far, seven people, five of them referees, have been accused in the scandal. If tried and convicted, they face up to two years in prison.