The central committee of the main opposition Communist Party accepted the resignation of its long-time leader Miroslav Grebenicek on Saturday and elected deputy chairman Vojtech Filip as his replacement, by a wide margin. Grebenicek had led the largely unreformed Communist Party since 1993. He had announced his intention to step down several weeks ago, citing his displeasure with the centrist direction he believed the party programme had taken. Vojtech Filip, the newly named Communist Party leader, is seen as a pragmatic politician whose primary goal is to end the party's isolation in parliament. He received 63 votes, more than three times that of his only rival, who Vaclav Exner, ho got 20 votes. Outgoing 'hard-line' chairman Grebenicek left the central committee meeting before his successor was named and refused to comment on the elections to journalists waiting outside Communist Party headquarters.
In other political news, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has pledged to help Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and his party, the Social Democrats, ahead of the June 2006 elections. Paroubek told journalists after dining with Schroeder in Prague on Friday evening that his German counterpart vowed to dispatch several members of his election team to Prague before Christmas to help the centre-left Social Democrats prepare election tactics. Schroeder was in Prague for a brief unofficial visit late Friday and had dinner with Paroubek at a luxurious French restaurant in the city centre.
Former prime minister Stanislav Gross, who resigned as chairman of the centre-left Social Democratic party on Friday, will begin work as a trainee lawyer in a private firm starting this Monday. At age 35, Gross was the youngest prime minister in Europe until he stepped down this April. He had been under heavy pressure to resign following questions about his personal finances, including how he paid for his luxury Prague apartment. In an interview for the Pravo daily published on Saturday, Gross said that in private practice, he would avoid legal cases relating to serious financial or organised crime. He said that as a former interior minister, he considered it "unethical" to handle such cases.
A freight train driver died on Friday shortly before midnight when he crashed into parked train outside the Zelenice na Mostecku railway station near the town of Most, in northern Bohemia. Thirteen carriages and one engine derailed in the crash and local rail traffic was suspended on Saturday. The driver, who worked for the private company Unipetrol Doprava, failed to notice a stop signal, a Czech Railways spokesman said.
Almost all of the banknotes found in a raid of the home of fugitive businessman Radovan Krejcir were forgeries, a Czech National Bank spokesperson said on Friday. Police had reported finding billions of crowns in various currencies, but it turns out less than 10 million crowns worth of the notes were genuine. Mr Krejcir is wanted on charges of fraud and conspiracy to murder; he fled the Czech Republic in June and is now in the Seychelles, where he has citizenship.
The Swedish company Modern Times Group has agreed to pay 115 million dollars for a 50-percent stake in Czech commercial channel TV Prima, ending weeks of speculation about the station's future. Prima, previously known as Premiera, has been broadcasting since 1993. It has recently had a big ratings hit with a Big Brother-like "reality show".
Jiri Stajner has been recalled to the Czech Republic football squad, after strikers Jan Koller and Vratislav Lokvenc were ruled out with injury. Experienced midfielder Vladimir Smicer is also out for the country's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Holland and Finland. The Czechs, who are currently second in Group 1, last reached the World Cup in 1990.
The Christian Democrats say a new Criminal Code currently being discussed by the lower house could legalise euthanasia in the Czech Republic. Deputy chairman Jan Kasal said on Friday that while it sets a maximum sentence of six years for assisted suicide, the Code does not fix a minimum sentence; he said this could be used as a roundabout way to allow euthanasia. However, the law's authors dismissed this claim, saying euthanasia will remain illegal under Czech law.