Czech PM curses Mandela funeral

By bne IntelliNews December 9, 2013

bne -

Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok marked the end of his unelected stint in office by cursing as he lamented on December 5 that he will not be able to wriggle out of attending the funeral of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela next week.

Rusnok, who was installed in the job in June by President Milos Zeman - against the wishes of all Czech political parties - following a government collapse, complained in comments captured by parliament microphones that he will likely have to attend the ceremony for one of the world's most respected statesmen because his mentor is not fit to travel. His words were later broadcast by Czech Television, and went viral on the internet the next day, reports AFP.

Talking to Defence Minister Vlastimil Picek, Rusnok said: "I hope the president will go instead. The idea of going gives me the shivers. I have a lunch scheduled, and a dinner too, man, so I'm dreading having to go there." He added he hoped the president would attend, but admitted that's unlikely because Zeman is still recovering from a knee injury. "Can you tell me how he will climb the stairs to the plane?" Picek asked.

The PM - who following snap elections in October will leave office once a new coalition government is agreed by the CSSD, Ano 2011 and KDU-CSL and appointed by Zeman - described the trip to South Africa for the service as "one hell of a distance", before conceding: "I guess he (Zeman) won't fly so I'm fucked."

Mandela - who died on December 5 and will be buried on December 15 - had few peers to command the level of respect he achieved around the world from his time as an imprisoned dissident leader against the former apartheid regime in South Africa, then as president, then as de facto moral leader. However, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, whose history is remarkably similar, came close and the pair became close friends.

Zeman and another former president, Vaclav Klaus - who both continue to try to control Czech politics after decades in power - both regularly clashed with the former playwright dissident through decades up to his death in 2011.

Rusnok, who had sent condolences to South Africa earlier expressing "profound grief" apologised for his words later on December 6 in a short message sent to Czech media. "It was not correct to say that in connection with the death of Nelson Mandela," he said in a statement, according to AP.

On December 8, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement that he will be honoured to represent the EU at the State Memorial Service in Johannesburg. "The world community owes a debt of gratitude to this great statesman and human being," he said. "The outpouring of emotion in Africa, Europe and all over the world on the passing away of Madiba is a testament to his influence across the globe."

The same day, it was announced that Foreign Minister Jan Kohout will represent the Czech Republic at the event.

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