Havel gives tacit support to anti-D3 motorway campaign

Posazavi landscape

Look at a map of Prague and just to the south-west you'll see a winding river called the Sazava, which runs through a picturesque valley dotted with villages and farms. The Sazava valley and the region surrounding it, called Posazavi, is a popular retreat for Prague's urban population - every Friday hundreds of Praguers make the short drive out of the capital for a few days of relaxation at their treasured weekend cottages. But this picturesque idyll could be under threat: the Ministry of Transport wants to run a motorway through it. Rob Cameron has more.

Last week President Vaclav Havel visited the Posazavi region, for what his office described as a fact-finding mission to see for himself the route of the Czech Republic's new D3 motorway. The D3 will run due south from Prague to the Austrian border - shortening distances to the southern towns of Tabor and Ceske Budejovice and improving transport routes from Italy and Austria to Eastern Europe. But particularly controversial is the route leading into Prague. The D3 will cut right across the Sazava valley - and will span the river itself on a huge road bridge. Jiri Capek is from the local village of Radlik:

"This is so stupid that it indicates some lobbying for concrete. You know, this is hilly country and to reach those points, the only possibility is by tunnelling and mainly by bridging."

So the more complicated the route is, then the more tunnels, the more bridges, the more contracts, the more cement, the more metal and therefore the more money?

"Yes, it seems that way."

Otherwise they would have chosen a straight route, straight down.

"Yes. And the possibilities are here. This is a regional problem, and there's no need to risk this beautiful country."

Accompanying Mr Havel on his trip to Sazava were Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart and Transport Minister Jaromir Schling. Mr Kuzvart is a lone voice of opposition to the motorway-building programme in the Czech cabinet, but has little power to stop it. Mr Schling is a fervent believer in the need for a new motorway south to Austria, and says the route through the Posazavi region is the most logical and least costly. The two ministers clashed openly at last week's public meeting - Minister Kuzvart saying the future was in the train, not the car.

Posazavi landscape

And as if to stress that point, President Havel ended his visit by boarding a local train...with Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart waving happily in the seat in front of him, and Transport Minister Jaromir Schling glowering in the background. Mr Havel, a former playwright, may be sworn to neutrality in the D3 motorway dispute, but he's clearly not above using a bit of theatre to show just whose side he's on.