News Thursday, JANUARY 25th, 2001

By Nick Carey

Constitutional Court overturns part of election law

The Czech Constitutional Court has rejected part of a controversial new election law. The law, which was passed by the ruling Social Democrats, with the support of the main opposition Civic Democrats, has widely criticised by smaller opposition parties, who say that the law favours the larger parties. President Vaclav Havel has also been highly critical of the law, and vetoed it last year. After his veto was overruled by the Lower House of Parliament, President Havel asked the Constitutional Court to examine the law, as he believed it was in breach of the Czech Constitution. The Constitutional Court has found that the creation of more electoral districts is unconstitutional, and has cancelled that clause. The court has, however, rejected President Havel's complaint over the percentage of the vote that a coalition party needs to obtain in order to gain parliamentary representation. The Four Party Coalition, which opposed the law, has welcomed the court's decision. Social Democrat and Civic Democrat representatives say they intend to reintroduce the law into parliament, taking the court ruling into account.

Council of Europe MPs sign petition for release of Czechs in Cuba

Members of parliament of the Council of Europe have signed a petition requesting the release of two Czechs being held in Cuba. MP Ivan Pilip and former student activist Jan Bubenik, were arrested on January 12th after meeting Cuban opposition groups, and have been charged with subversion by the Cuban authorities. 155 members of the council's parliamentary body, which represents thirty eight countries, have called for the two men to be released as soon as possible. The non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch has also requested that the two men be released, calling their arrest a serious breach of human rights.

On a related note, the Czech Communist Party has publicised information, apparently from the Cuban Foreign Ministry, that alleges that the two men were sent to Cuba by the Freedom House, a non-governmental organisation, and the CIA, with the intention of obtaining information about opposition groups. The Cuban authorities claim that they discovered documents in the possession of the two men from Freedom House, that contained lists of dissidents with whom they were supposed to meet.

Czech TV to undergo forensic audit

The financial director of crisis-hit Czech Television has announced plans for a forensic audit to be carried out on the public service station. The audit will be carried out by Price WaterhouseCoopers and a local company HZ Praha, and follows allegations of financial irregularities at the television station. The station was the focus of massive demonstrations earlier this month, when staff went on strike in protest over the appointment of Jiri Hodac by the Czech Television Supervisory Board, which was accused of political bias. Striking staff members at Czech TV have welcomed the decision, as they say they have already requested such an audit.

Klaus criticises Zeman's actions in Bavaria

Opposition leader Vaclav Klaus has criticised an agreement made by Prime Minister Milos Zeman during a one-day visit to Bavaria on Tuesday. The prime minister agreed to set up a Czech-Bavarian discussion forum that will look into the issue of the Benes Decrees, which led to the expulsion of up to three million ethnic Germans, the Sudeten Germans, from Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII. There are a large number of Sudeten Germans living in Bavaria. According to Mr. Klaus, this comes a huge surprise, as Mr. Zeman has always said that he will not discuss the issue with Bavaria, but only with German federal government. This, said Mr. Klaus, was a huge policy turnaround.

And finally, a quick look at Thursday's weather:

We can expect another mild but gloomy day, with overcast skies and rain showers in places. Daytime temperatures could reach as high as six degrees Celsius. Night-time lows are expected to drop to minus one degree Celsius.