News Sunday, NOVEMBER 19th, 2000

Written/read by: Rob Cameron

Social Democrats head for disaster in Sunday's second round of Senate elections

Czechs go to the polls on Sunday for the second round of elections to the upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate. Twenty-seven of the 81 seats in the upper house are being contested, and the result could spell disaster for the ruling Social Democrats. The party held nine of the 27 seats before last week's first round: but none of the five candidates who made it through to the second look certain to retain their seats. The poor showing by the Social Democrats, caused partly by low turnout, is unlikely to bring down the government, but could scupper plans to change the Czech Constitution. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats support the minority Social Democrat cabinet in exchange for senior parliamentary posts, policy concessions and constitutional amendments. Plans to limit the powers of the President, already passed by the lower house, could be shelved if the two parties lose their three-fifths majority in the Senate.

Four-party coalition riding high

Meanwhile a coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties are expected to make strong gains in Sunday's second round. The party fielded the only candidate who won outright in the first round, and look likely to win many of the 19 seats it is contesting in the second. The vote is hardly convincing for the upper house itself however - around 20 percent of the electorate are expected to bother to vote on Sunday. The Senate can delay but not veto legislation and cannot sack governments. Polls have shown more than 50 percent of people are in favour of abolishing the upper house altogether.

Kavan: Prague ready for fresh talks over Temelin

The Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, has said Prague is ready to discuss Austrian safety concerns over the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, but has again ruled out shutting the plant down. Mr Kavan told the CTK news agency that he believed the dispute between the two neighbours could be resolved before the end of this year. Mr Kavan said bilateral talks on the issue were scheduled for December 11th in Austria. Austrian environmentalists have held a series of border blockades to protest against the Temelin plant, which was recently completed at a cost of some 100 billion Czech crowns. Many Austrians believe the plant is unsafe and should be shut down. The Czech government says it conforms to safety standards common in the EU. On Thursday planned talks in Brussels to negotiate Prague's bid to join the European Union were postponed at Vienna's request. Diplomats said the decision was "unprecedented". Meanwhile a leading Austrian environmentalist has called for new safety checks at Temelin, after the reactor was automatically shut down on Saturday during a cooling test.

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. Sunday will be a cold and cloudy day throughout the Czech Republic, with early morning fog in places. Temperatures will reach 8 degrees in the daytime, falling to lows of minus 2 at night.