A deal on an interim government and early elections remains viable despite a pullout by two smaller parties, the head of the opposition Social Democrats has said. Jiří Paroubek’s comments on Tuesday echoed an earlier statement by outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose ruling Civic Democrats, together with the Christian Democrats and the Greens, were defeated in a no-confidence vote last month. At the weekend, the coalition parties and the Social Democrats reached a preliminary agreement on a government of experts to assume office in May and lead the country to early elections. But on Monday the Christian Democrats cast doubt on the deal saying they wanted the outgoing cabinet to remain in power until the end of the Czech EU presidency. The Greens have called the deal “dead” and called for new negotiations.
In related news, the Christian Democratic Party saw sharp division among some of its members over how to proceed towards a new government. Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek reportedly criticised party members in a heated exchange on Tuesday, angering the party’s leader Jiří Čunek. The head of the Christian Democrats’ deputies’ club, Pavel Severa confirmed that party MPs would push for new talks on the interim government, after the deputies group narrowly rejected a draft resolution by Mr Kalousek urging the party to respect the weekend agreement.
In an on-line discussion on Tuesday Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek revealed he may leave the Christian Democratic Party pending the results of the Christian Democrats’ leadership conference in May. In the discussion, posted on the Czech EU presidency website, he also admitted he might retire from politics entirely. Mr Kalousek, recently pegged as a possible candidate to head the planned caretaker government, has faced opposition from within his party on a number of key issues, including the privatisation of Prague airport as well as finding a solution to the current government crisis.
Former Civic Democrat politician Miroslav Macek has apologised for slapping opposition MP David Rath at a conference in 2006 – the culmination of a spat between the two men after Mr Rath accused his opponent of marrying for money. Mr Macek unexpectedly slapped Mr Rath to the back of the head when both appeared at a medical conference. The incident was caught on video tape and seen by viewers around the world. The Prague High Court ordered Miroslav Macek to apologise for his actions as well as to pay a 100,000 crown fine. The apology was issued through ČTK, the Czech news agency.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II met with President Václav Klaus on Monday at the start of a two-day visit to the Czech Republic. In their meeting the two discussed expanding strong political ties into the economic sphere. Mr Klaus stressed that both sides were looking for new markets and expressed the hope that Jordan would be one for Czech manufacturers and vice-versa. Other issues discussed included the Middle East, with King Abdullah saying he hoped this year would see new talks between Israel and Palestinian representatives. Earlier in the year, the Czech Republic tried to broker a ceasefire after conflict broke out in Gaza – shortly after the Czechs took up the rotating EU presidency.
The head of the Czech Beer and Malt Association has revealed that more than half of the country’s breweries are interested in using the “Czech Beer” trademark, approved last year by the European Commission. The news was released on Tuesday by the head of the Czech Beer and Malt Association Jan Veselý, who said the trademark would help Czech firms on foreign markets. Basic requirements to acquire the label include meeting set standards of quality, producing domestically and using traditional ingredients and technology. Permission to use the label is provided by the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority.
President Václav Klaus has signed an amendment transferring responsibility for public sidewalks to municipalities. Until now, responsibility for sidewalks, keeping them ice-free in winter for example, has been up to the owners of adjacent properties. That was opposed by Civic Democrat Senator Jaroslav Kubera, who maintained that building owners being held accountable for public property was unfair. But the bill was opposed by the Union of Towns and Municipalities, as well as by Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, who has said the legislation will lead to a rise in spending by the city during the current economic downturn.
A portrait of Barack Obama given to the US president during his recent visit to the Czech Republic will temporarily go on display at a Prague gallery. The portrait, by Spanish artist Jose-Maria Cano, was given to Mr Obama by former Czech president Václav Havel. Mr Obama visited Prague on April 4 and 5, giving a keynote speech on nuclear disarmament just outside Prague Castle. He then met privately with Mr Havel shortly before his departure. The gift by Mr Havel will go on display at the DOX gallery until April 22, after which it will be sent on to Washington.
The head coach of the national football team faces a possible dismissal on Wednesday when Czech FA officials meet to discuss the team’s recent record in qualification for next year’s World Cup. Petr Rada has led the team since last year, after Karel Bruckner stepped down, but his record has been less than successful. After a recent draw with Slovenia and a key loss to Slovakia, the team’s chances of booking a berth in South Africa next year appear slim. Some names being mentioned as possible successors to Petr Rada include Ivan Hašek, who coaches in the United Arab Emirates, and former Sparta Prague coach Frantíšek Straka.
Czech political leaders have agreed on a prime minister designate who would lead the country until early elections. The candidate who received unanimous support from both the outgoing coalition and the opposition Social Democrats is Jan Fischer, head of the Czech Statistical Office. The 58-year-old economist should put together a caretaker government that would take over on May 9 and lead the country until early elections expected in October. Pending ratification, Fischer would be expected to replace the outgoing prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, whose cabinet was toppled last month midway through the Czech Republic's six-month European Union presidency. Jan Fischer, who became the head of the statistical office in 2003, is non-partisan but was a member of the Communist Party in 1980-1989.