News Sunday, MARCH 15th, 1998

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With opinion polls pointing to a stalemate in Parliament after the June elections, Czech politicians are tentatively discussing the possibility of a broad coalition

Another anti-racist demonstration took place on Prague's Old Town Square this Saturday

Greek prime minister Kostas Simitis has begun a four day official visit to the Czech republic

Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail:

Polls suggest stalemate

With opinion polls pointing to a stalemate in Parliament after the June elections, Czech politicians are tentatively considering the possibility of a broad governing coalition. Jan Kassal, a leading representative of the Christian Democrats, said after the latest opinion polls were released, that if the parties of the right wing were unable to produce a majority government, his party would be amenable to a broad right-left coalition with the opposition Social Democrats. It is not our desire to do so - but we would have to consider the best interests of our country, said Kassal who had up to this point been adamantly opposed to the idea of linking his party's fate to that of the Social Democrats. Although the right wing has slightly recovered from the loss of credibility in the wake of financing scandals -mainly thanks to the newly established Freedom Union which now boasts a record 18% popularity rating - personal relationships have been damaged to such an extent that the setting up of a right wing coalition would be fraught with problems. For instance the ODS of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus has announced that a coalition with the Christian Democrats would only be possible without the presence of party leader Josef Lux.

Anti-racist demonstration

Another anti-racist demonstration took place on Prague's Old Town Square this Saturday. These quiet gatherings have become a regular event ever since the brutal murder of a Sudanese student in Prague last November. The racist attacks which followed have only strengthened the protesters' resolve to draw attention to the problem and get action from government circles. The Czech cabinet is to debate a coordinated action plan to combat the problem of racism and xenophobia at its Wednesday session . Meanwhile, court hearings pertaining to the murder of the Sudanese student are due to begin on Monday in Prague.

Greek prime minister in Prague

Greek prime minister Kostas Simitis has begun a four day official visit to the Czech Republic. He will be meeting with President Havel, prime minister Tosovsky and members of both houses of Parliament to discuss the state of bilateral affairs, European security matters and the Czech republic's projected accession to NATO and the EU. The two countries have been working to establish closer contacts since premier Klaus' visit to Greece last year.

Pilip says deregulation inevitable

Finance minister Ivan Pilip has once again defended the government's decision to deregulate the price of electricity, gas and rents as of July this year. Speaking to journalists Saturday Pilip suggested that the deregulation process could have been less painful had it been launched earlier and conducted in phases by the Klaus administration. The Tosovsky cabinet simply took responsibility for an unpopular move, Pilip argued. The government's decision will send the price of electricity up by 24%, that of gas and rents by an average 27%. The move has been severely criticized by trade unions. What effect it will have on voter preferences remains to be seen.

Finally the weather - Sunday should be overcast with scattered showers and day temps between 2 and 6 degs C. Nighttime lows two to minus two degs. Mountain resorts are reporting excellent skiing conditions for the first time this winter, with an average of 10cm of snow on the ground. Œ