On the occasion of the 'International Day of Roma', Czech Roma leaders on Friday issued a renewed call for the removal of a pig farm at the site of World War II labour camp where thousands of Roma, also known as Gypsies, were interred, and several hundred died. Roma activist Ondrej Gina said that the new petition would demand that Czech authorities separate off a memorial to those who died at Lety camp from the pig farm, which was built under communism in the 1970s. Only one in 20 Czech Roma survived the war. The petitioners say the presence of the pig farm at Lety is an insult to the memory of those who were killed.
Meanwhile, Mr Gross confirmed on Saturday that the "chief candidate" to fill his shoes is the current Czech ambassador to the European Union, Jan Kohout. The two men had held private talks on Friday about the possibility of Mr Kohout returning from Brussels to head up the new "pro-European" government, a prime task of which would be to push through ratification of the European Constitution.
A proposal put forth by Prime Minister Stanislav Gross on how to choose
his replacement was agreed on Saturday by the top leadership of the Social
Democratic party, of which Mr Gross is chairman. His proposal, first
announced on Thursday, is to form a "pro-European" government of
the three-party coalition including the centre-right Christian Democrats
and the Freedom Union parties, with the new prime minister to again be a
member of the left-leaning Social Democrats.
The leaders of the other two parties have agreed in principle to the proposal, and to Mr Gross' condition that he have final say over the appointment of new Cabinet ministers, but have bristled at his suggestion that those ministers who have "recently undermined" the old government - taken to mean the five ministers who have resigned from the Cabinet in recent days - not be allowed to return. However, all three parties have reportedly agreed in private that their leaders will not seek key Cabinet posts.
According to a new poll by the STEM agency, however, the majority of voters are not in favour of the three-party coalition continuing in government. Sixty-one percent of those polled said would prefer for early elections to be held instead. When asked who should be the next prime minister, given that the coalition parties have agreed it will be a Social Democrat party member, 28 percent named the current Minister of Finance, Bohuslav Sobotka, as their choice, 18 percent said Zdenek Skromach, who is the minister of Labour and Social Affairs, while only 17 percent said they thought Stanislav Gross should remain in his post.
The Health Ministry has become involved in a dispute with Ceska Posta (Czech Post), which recently started selling cigarettes at some post offices, TV Nova reported on Thursday. Czech Post is wholly owned by the state, which campaigns against smoking. However, the Ministry concedes that selling cigarettes at post offices does not contravene the law.
Flags have been flown at half-mast and a minute's silence held around the Czech Republic on an official day of mourning for Pope John Paul II, who was buried on Friday. The pontiff's funeral was attended by the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and lower house chairman Lubomir Zaoralek. It is believed that a few thousand Czech Roman Catholics also travelled to the Vatican for the funeral.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has held talks with Jan Kohout, the
Czech ambassador to the European Union. The latter said after Friday's
meeting that the two men had discussed the possibility of Mr Kohout, a
career diplomat, replacing Mr Gross as prime minister.
On Thursday the prime minister said he would step aside to allow a new government of his Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union to form under a different leader.
Mr Gross has been under pressure for some months over a scandal involving his family's finances, and his government is hanging by a thread, with several ministers having resigned and more threatening to follow.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic stood at 9.4 percent in March,
according to figures just released by the Labour Ministry. The new
figures represent a slight drop on February, when unemployment was at
9.6 percent. Some 540,000 Czechs are now out of work. The number of
applicants per job is now 10.1, the lowest number in three years.
Meanwhile, year-on-year inflation in March fell to 1.5 percent, the lowest rate since December 2003.
The Vatican announced on Thursday that the election of a new pope will begin on April 18 with a mass served by Czech cardinal Tomas Spidlik. Cardinal Spidlik has spent most of his life in Rome, and was close to Pope John Paul II. The only Czech among the 117 cardinals who will elect a new pope is Prague Archbishop Miloslav Vlk.