Press Review

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This year's general elections to the Lower House of Czech Parliament will be held on the 14th and 15th of June. That's the largest front-page headline in most of Thursday's Czech newspapers.

President Vaclav Havel originally suggested May as the best date for the general election, but both the ruling Social Democrats and the strongest opposition party, the Civic Democrats protested against a May date, as general elections usually take place in mid-June in the Czech Republic.

The daily Pravo says the most vocal critic of the proposed May date was the Speaker of the Lower House and chairman of the Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus who said he did not understand Mr Havel's motives and called his proposal a spiteful act. On Wednesday, President Havel met Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who has to counter-sign the election declaration, to negotiate about the date. Pravo describes the outcome of the meeting a defeat of President Havel.

"Havel backed off", reports Lidove noviny on Wednesday's meeting with Prime Minister Zeman. The paper says the meeting took almost twice as long as had been planned and beside negotiations about the election date, the two politicians spoke about Mr Zeman's recent statements about Austria and Sudeten Germans.

The daily quotes Mr Havel as saying that Milos Zeman had the right to be critical but he should not have used such strong language and that less colourful expressions would do better service to good neighbourly relations between Austria and the Czech Republic.

The opposition Four-Party Coalition, which has found itself in a sticky situation over the debt of its smallest member the Civic Democratic Alliance or ODA, would have been happy if the general elections were held in May. "The sooner, the better," Lidove noviny quotes Cyril Svoboda, the chairman of the Christian Democrats, the largest party in the coalition.

"The President is trying to save the Four-Party Coalition", read the headlines in Mlada fronta Dnes and Lidove noviny. An editorial in Lidove noviny, entitled "Vaclav Havel - statesman and voter" comments on Mr Havel's call on the indebted ODA to pay off their debt.

Other parties have debts too. But why, the editorial asks, did Vaclav Havel appeal only to the Civic Democratic Alliance and not for instance the Social Democrats, the Civic Democrats?

It can only be interpreted as a display of Mr Havel's political preferences. He is more interested in the cohesion and purity of the Four-Party Coalition than in the transparency of the whole political scene. Even the president is only a voter after all, the editorial concludes.

The Prague daily Vecernik Praha leads with the headline "War over Charles Bridge". The Prague town hall has so far claimed the first stage of the planned reconstruction of the world famous stone bridge will cost 128 million crowns. The team of experts who prepared the project say the cost will be less than half that amount. The reconstruction has many opponents, though, who say the project is wrong and the final cost might be much higher as a result.

Mlada fronta Dnes reports on the same topic under the headline "Let's not rush with the repairs" and comments that the reconstruction of Charles Bridge is not only a subject of debate among experts. It has also led to political disputes in the Prague town hall.