News Monday, NOVEMBER 20th, 2000

By Rob Cameron

Apathetic Czechs vote: Social Democrats head for disaster

A coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties has triumphed in the second round of Senate elections, which were marked by overwhelming voter apathy. The Four-Party Coalition won 17 of the 27 seats contested in elections to the upper house, and now control 39 of the 81 seats in the Senate. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats did poorly, winning just eight seats. Among their losses was the town of Benesov, where the Civic Democrat chairwoman of the upper house, Libuse Benesova, was thrashed by Four-Party Coalition candidate Helena Rognerova. It was another disastrous night for the ruling Social Democrats: they took just one seat, and now have just 15 Senators. The Communist Party, which did well in regional elections, failed to win any seats, and continue to command three mandates in the upper house. Plans by the ruling Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats to change the Constitution are also on hold: the two parties have lost their constitutional majority - in fact they no longer command even a simple majority in the Senate.

Another bad day for unpopular Senate

Sunday's vote was hardly convincing for the upper house itself. Turnout in most places was less than 20 percent - in one constituency it was just 13 percent. Most Czechs see the Senate as an expensive waste of time, with polls regularly showing more than 50 percent in favour of abolishing it. The upper house has little real power - it can delay but not veto legislation and cannot sack governments. Under the Czech voting system, a third of the Senate is elected every two years. All senators are elected for six-year terms.

Temelin reactor briefly shut down after 'false alarm'

Safety systems briefly shut down the reactor of the Czech Republic's controversial Temelin nuclear power station on Saturday, adding to tension between Prague and Vienna over safety at the plant. Temelin spokesman Milan Nebesar told the Czech News Agency that the automatic shutdown was a false alarm which occurred during a regular cooling test. There had been no threat to safety, he said, and the reactor was already being brought back on line. But the incident has worsened the dispute between the Czech Republic and fiercely non-nuclear Austria. Austrian environmentalists have held a series of border blockades to protest against the plant, which was completed at a cost of some 100 billion Czech crowns and started up in October. Many Austrians believe Temelin is unsafe and should be shut down. The Czech government says it conforms to safety standards common in the EU.

Austria: Czech unwillingness forced us to go to Brussels over Temelin A senior Austrian politician has said her country turned to the European Union for help in the dispute over Temelin only because of what she described as Prague's unwillingness to hold talks on the issue. The General Secretary of Austria's ruling People's Party, Maria Rauch-Kallat, said on Austrian television that the Czech Republic had refused to discuss the controversial plant for several months, and that Vienna had finally be forced to seek intervention from the European Union. On Thursday planned talks in Brussels to negotiate Prague's bid to join the EU were postponed at Vienna's request. Diplomats described the decision as "unprecedented". The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, meanwhile, has said the Temelin could be resolved before the end of this year. Mr Kavan said bilateral talks on the issue were scheduled for December 11th in Austria.

Squatters try to re-enter Ladronka

Some 250 young people marched to the Ladronka squat in western Prague on Sunday, which was forcibly evacuated last week by the local council. Several squatters tried unsuccessfully to re-enter the building, which has been cordoned off and occupied by police. Ladronka was one of Prague's best-known squats, attracting hundreds of young people with its alternative lifestyle and communal living. The squatters say last week's move to empty the building was illegal.


And finally a look at the weather. Monday will be a cold and cloudy day throughout the Czech Republic, with early morning fog and drizzle in places. Temperatures will reach 9 degrees in the daytime, falling to lows of minus 2 at night.