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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Czech Government wins narrow vote
Vladimir Spidla and Czech President Vaclav Havel
Mr Spidla (left) says EU membership is a priority

The new Czech Government has won a vote of confidence in parliament, scraping through by 101 votes to 98.

The vote was a test of the government's razor-thin majority, which has set itself the tasks of bringing the country into the European Union and strengthening the social welfare system.

The opposition criticised the government's plans for a bigger budget deficit, something the International Monetary Fund also voiced concern over in a report issued in Washington.

After a day of sharp criticism from opposition deputies, members of Parliament stood up one by one and expressed support or opposition to the confidence motion.

Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, acknowledges support in parliament
Mr Spidla's coalition is united over the EU

All the government's 101 deputies supported it, a good omen for a three-party coalition that will now rule with the thinnest of possible majorities.

Joining the EU is the main issue binding the three parties together.

Other issues, such as the plans of the new Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, to strengthen the welfare system, are more divisive.

The question of state finances is also a worry, with a significant increase in the budget deficit looking very likely.

IMF criticism

Opposition deputies attacked the idea of a bigger deficit. Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus called it a suicidal plan leading to permanent poverty.

In a separate development, the International Monetary Fund in Washington issued a report calling for what it called "decisive action" to reduce the deficit.

The government is expected to approve a deficit worth about 6% of gross domestic product - quite high by international standards.

But any doubts were dismissed by Mr Spidla, who says his government would be stable and equal to the tasks ahead of it.

See also:

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