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Embattled Czech TV boss quits

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Jiri Hodac, the new director of public Czech Television who has come under fire from journalists and politicians, has resigned on health grounds.

The move on Thursday follows mounting pressure from staff, whose allegations of political bias have gained widespread public sympathy.

The resignation failed to prevent a mass demonstration hours later at Prague's main Wenceslas Square and two other towns during which journalists called for further measures.

Hodac said in a statement, read out by one of his deputies, Vera Valterova: "On the basis of conversations today with my doctor...I unfortunately had to accept the conclusion that at this moment I cannot perform the job in the position to which I was legally elected."

Hodac was in hospital for several days last week, said to have been suffering from exhaustion.

It is the second time in five months that Hodac will have resigned from Czech television, journalist Bruce Konviser told CNN.

Hodac is said to have quit last August as head of news, again after being admitted to hospital.

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Journalist Bruce Konviser on Hodac's resignation

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Bruce Konviser at Wenceslas Square demonstration

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More than 50,000 people are estimated to have attended a rally in Prague on Thursday evening, many waving banners saying "We want an independent television," and "We are with you."

The station's staff, who refused to accept Hodac's appointment amid allegations that he would interfere with their editorial independence, said the fight will go on until two other demands are met.

"It's not about Mr Hodac, and never has been," said the main protest organiser Vaclav Marhoul.

"It's about principles."

Journalists had argued that Hodac is too closely associated with the two parties, mainly the ODS of ex-premier Vaclav Klaus.

Filip Cerny, a spokesman for the striking journalists, said they would remain on strike since the managers appointed during Hodac's reign were still in place.

He added that the Czech TV council, which appointed the former British Broadcasting Corporation journalist, must be sacked before they would end their action.

Staff are also calling for laws to be introduced for Czech TV which would prevent politically motivated appointments.

Another rally is planned for January 20.

Future of TV Council in balance

The government said in a statement that Hodac's resignation should "calm the situation" at Czech Television, but did not say whether it expects the lower house to go ahead with a special session on Friday and sack the council.

Hodac
Hodac's appointment sparked protests  

Two board members, Vaclav Erben and Petr Hajek, both nominated by the CSSD, stepped down on Thursday because the council failed to sack Hodac at a meeting earlier this week despite being instructed to do so by the lower house.

Both houses of parliament had called on the director to quit, and the protest also received support from President Vaclav Havel.

Valterova said the council stood firm, adding that nobody else in management was ready to step down.

The demonstration on Thursday evening was the second called for by protesting journalists -- the first attracted an estimated 100,000 people last week -- the largest public protest since demonstrations which overthrew communism in 1989.

They were demonstrating against Hodac, who was appointed as director general on December 20 by the Czech Television Council -- dominated by nominees of the two main political parties, the ruling Social Democrats and their opposition allies, the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS).

The party and Hodac denied having any links, but it was not enough to sway striking staff who have occupied the Czech Television headquarters in Prague triggering TV blackouts.

The TV council ignored a parliamentary appeal to fire the director on Monday, instead calling on the station's new management to start negotiating with the rebellious reporters.

The management ended their blockade of protesting journalists' broadcasts going on air.

Hodac will remain in place, under Czech law, until a new director is named. The lower chamber may appoint an interim director if it agrees to a proposal by the governing Social Democrats to assume control of the television station.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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