Prime Minister Zeman to step down as party chairman next spring

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Prime Minister Milos Zeman is firmly resolved to step down as the chairman of the ruling Social Democrat Party. Zeman told the daily Pravo on Friday that he has been contemplating this move for quite a long time, and that once his mind is made up, there is no going back. Alena Skodova reports:

During the interview, Mr. Zeman expressed satisfaction with what he had achieved: "I will be leaving my post knowing that I succeeded in two basic goals: I led the Social Democrat Party to victory in the last parliamentary elections and have brought the country out of economic dire straits it faced two years ago," the prime minister told the paper. When asked what attracts him most about his current post, Mr. Zeman said it was neither power, nor glory or immortality, but the chance to implement his programme and making it work.

Mr. Zeman pointed out that since coming to power, he had not bought a luxury apartment nor built a large house. His main objective, he says, is to prove that his party has ideas, which he considers to be just. Although Mr. Zeman admitted that he may have made some mistakes when choosing who to work with, he described Vladimir Spidla, the present deputy prime minister and the minister of labour, as the most suitable successor as the Social Democrat Party's chairman.

Mr. Zeman was asked about the current poor state of relations between the Czech Republic and Austria, following the recent launch of the country's second nuclear power plant, Temelin. In the past Mr. Zeman was known for setting Austria as an example that the Czech Republic should follow, mainly because Austria was also governed by Social Democrats. This changed last February, when Joerg Haider's far right Freedom Party joined the Austrian government after making significant gains in elections. Commenting on the current Austrian protests against Temelin, Zeman said he saw the problem as a kind of a trauma that prevails in the minds of Austrians after the country rejected nuclear power many years ago in a national referendum. The PM added, "we must understand Austria's fears, but I'll be ready to discuss this issue with the press only after the meeting with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel next week."

Prime Minister Zeman stated in the interview that his decision to leave his post as party chairman was final. He will, however, remain as prime minister at least until the next elections. After that, the prime minister claimed, he intends to retire, and take up the life of an ordinary pensioner.