PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- In the final death blow to the 74- year-old union of Czechs and Slovaks, Czechoslovakia's federal Parliament voted Wednesday to dissolve the country at the end of the year.
The constitutional amendment, adopted 183-30 with 55 abstentions, assures the country a smooth split into separate Czech and Slovak states on Jan. 1.
It also eliminates any chance of a referendum on the matter.
Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus, a leading advocate of dissolving the Czechoslovak union, hailed the vote as 'am important signal' that the division will be calm and orderly.
'The world is often confused,' he said. 'They see the Yugoslav crisis and the crisis in the former Soviet Union. I belive that today's vote is a comforting gesture to the outside world.'
The federal legislative body had twice before tried to pass a similar bill but failed to win the required three-fifths' majority in the 300- seat Parliament. Last week, it lacked only three votes in one of Parliament's three chambers.
The decision to proceed with the split came after both the Czech and Slovak national legislatures moved to assume the central government's powers at the end of the year in the event the federal Parliament failed to pass the law dissolving the country.
Deputies tacked an amendment onto the law requiring the Czech and Slovak national legislatures to ratify the breakup or hold separate referenda to endorse the division into two nations.
Both the Slovak and Czech leaderships have repeatedly said they would not now submit the question to the people, partly because the division process has gone too far and the federal government has already given up most of its powers to the two republics.
Opposition deputies including the extreme right, the left and the former Czech and Slovak Communist parties, had demanded the country's division be put to a referendum.
Opinion polls still show a majority of the country's 15.6 million citizens oppose a division.
'It puts a stamp of legitimacy on this decision,' said a Western diplomat in Prague.
'It's a very positive sign that the break-up is being done in a legal and orderly way. The word I would not use is constitutional because that old constitution can't be lived up to,' the diplomat added, referring to the 1968 Communist-era constitution that still governs Czechoslovakia.
The parliamentary action was the latest of a series of moves providing for an orderly breakup of the country, formed in 1918 with the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire at the end of World War I.
On Nov. 13, the Federal Assembly, or Parliament, passed legislation providing that the federal government's real estate, buildings and other fixed property will be given to the republic in which it is located. Other property will be handed out according to a 2-to-1 ratio reflecting the population of the two republics: 10.5 million Czechs in the west, and 5.5 million Slovaks in the eastern half of the country.
Laws have also been passed setting up a common customs area and kepping a common currency for the first half of 1993, as well as one dividing the army and air force.
Future laws will divide up Cezchoslovak radio, television, post offices and telecommunications centers as well as the secret police and their valuable files.
The 74-year-old federation of the two Slavic nations was never an easy one -- the Czech lands were always part of the Hapsburg Empire while Slovakia for centuries was controlled by the Turks -- but tensions were repressed during four decades of communist rule.
Slovak nationalist aspirations began to take form after the fall of communism in 1989, and culminated with the June 1992 parliamentary elections which were won in Slovakia by the Movement for Democratic Slovakia, an advocate of independence.