PRAGUE -- President Vaclav Havel appealed to Parliament today for new powers to keep Czechoslovakia from splitting in two.
The former dissident and playwright said he was forced to act because a dispute over division of powers among the federal government and the Czech and Slovak republics threatens the country's future. Slovak leaders are said to be ready to declare the sovereignty of their laws on Slovak territory unless the federal Parliament approves a division of powers that they find acceptable.
The state news agency CTK quoted Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky as saying Havel should be given power to ask for a nonpartisan government of experts in times of crisis, to rule by decree if Parliament is dissolved and to veto legislation.
Havel currently has the power to sign treaties, command the armed forces, appoint the federal government, summon and dissolve Parliament, sign laws, grant amnesties or other legal pardons and declare war.
His new powers, if granted, would be in effect until a new constitution is approved sometime in the next 18 months.
"I am very sorry I had to go this far," Havel said in a speech broadcast live on national TV. "I am doing this to fulfill the expectations of millions of citizens who . . . entrusted this position to me and believe I will help save our federation."
Top Slovak leaders had no comment on Havel's request. But Slovakia's Christian Democrats, one of three parties in the republic's governing coalition, were critical.
"I disagree with strengthening the presidential position to delegate law-making powers to the president," said Jan Petrik, the executive secretary of the Christian Democratic Movement.
A law dividing powers among the federal government and the two republics is to be debated by Parliament on Tuesday.
The Czech and Slovak parliaments differ over control of oil and gas pipelines, taxation and budget questions, postal services, control over policy toward ethnic minorities and chairmanship of the national bank.