Time for ailing Havel to step down?

Czech President Vaclav Havel

Well it looks like the ailing Czech President, Vaclav Havel, could be spending Christmas in hospital this year, after again coming down with a serious illness. Mr Havel, who is 65, was admitted to Prague's Central Military Hospital with breathing problems on Monday evening. Doctors say he has pneumonia, and will remain in hospital for at least the rest of the week for treatment. Rob Cameron has more.

President Vaclav Havel, once a heavy smoker, has been in and out of hospital over the past five years - he had half a lung removed in 1996 as doctors fought to save him from cancer, and has suffered from breathing problems and chronic bronchitis ever since. He also has problems with his insides - in 1998 he almost died after his small intestine burst whilst on holiday in Austria. Surgeons managed to save him, but his intestinal and bronchial problems have left his team of presidential doctors on constant alert.

Mr Havel is a stubborn man, however - he has fought attempts to curtail his busy schedule of official visits, conferences and speeches, and has always refused to step down, saying the country needs him. But what do the Czech people themselves think? We went out on the streets of Prague to find out:

"I think his job is not about political work it's more about representation and his name is so powerful. I think he is pretty sick and has been for a long time already but I don't know anybody else who can take his place."

"He doesn't have so much work. Naturally, he is only a representative of the country. We don't have the President work, you see. So, I think it's enough."

"I think he must take a break until his illness is gone and then he can finish his period in office. I think he wouldn't be able to do his job if he where Prime Minister Zeman that would be more difficult but because he is President he is an intellectual, he is a representative so I think he can handle it."

"His job is to represent the state and sometimes he has to scratch his official programme and stay in the hospital. But, I think he can still represent the state at official event when he is not in hospital."

And even a few foreign residents living in Prague said they thought Mr Havel should not step down:

"He's a good politician and even though he may be ill, good politicians are hard to come by. He should stay in, as long as he's able to complete his duties. I think he is able to do his work. Maybe he's not able to make appearances or fulfil those types of duties, but I consider those duties less important- to make appearances at parties and functions. So, as long as he's taking care of the country, that's valuable enough."

"I think he's the best candidate for President of the Czech Republic. I like him very much and I think it will be a great loss for our Republic if he steps down. I don't think his illness is a good reason."

President Havel has been living at Lany chateau since early November, to avoid the smoggy city air at Prague Castle. Mr Havel, a former dissident - and heavy smoker - blames his poor health partly on the years he spent in jail as a political prisoner under the former Communist regime. Whatever the reason for his illness, it seems unlikely Mr Havel will step down before his term expires in January 2003.