Czech Prime Minister to Resign Over Scandal

Czech (search) Prime Minister Stanislav Gross (search) said Saturday that he planned to resign and make way for a new coalition government, in a move aimed at resolving a political crisis triggered by a scandal surrounding the financing of his luxury apartment.

Gross, who didn't specify when he would resign, said the Czech ambassador to the European Union, Jan Kohout (search), was his Social Democrat party's candidate to replace him.

The scandal arose over questions of how Gross paid for a luxury apartment. He first said he paid for it with his own money and a mortgage, but later said he borrowed money from his uncle. It was later reported that his uncle borrowed the cash for a down payment on the apartment from a journalist.

Gross had been struggling to hold his government together amid calls for him to step down. Five ministers have resigned from his Cabinet in the last week, while the two coalition partner parties demanded Gross either leave his post or call early elections to restore confidence in the government, but he survived a confidence vote in parliament last week.

"This concept could be a way out of the current stalemate," Gross told reporters.

Talks with the coalition partner parties — the Christian Democrats and Freedom Union — on forming a new government should start in next few days, Kohout said.

Gross said he would not step down until an agreement is reached with the coalition parties and the plan, which was approved by the executive committee of his Social Democrats Saturday, also had support from President Vaclav Klaus.

According to Czech constitution, Klaus chooses Gross' successor should he resign. Klaus was abroad Saturday.

Should the other two parties not agree with the proposal, Gross said he was ready to lead a minority Social Democratic government.

"We certainly are ready to negotiate," said Ondrej Jakob, spokesman for the Christian Democrats, adding his party had not yet been officially informed about details of the proposal. He said a meeting of the coalition parties was scheduled for Sunday.

The Freedom Union also agreed to start the talks, spokeswoman Libuse Hebelkova said.

Kohout said he would make it a priority for his government to seek approval for the European Union constitution. It is not yet clear whether the document will be ratified by parliament or in a referendum in the Czech Republic.

On March 31, the Christian Democrats pulled out of the coalition government over the scandal, effectively breaking up the three-party coalition, which also includes Gross' Social Democrats.
Gross has denied wrongdoing, but has apologized for how he handled the crisis.