PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — Gustav Husak, who took over leadership of the Communist Party 18 years ago after Soviet forces crushed the "Prague Spring," was replaced as party chief today by Politburo member Milos Jakes.
The official Czechoslovak news agency CTK reported that Husak, 74, retains the less powerful presidency, a mostly ceremonial post he has held since May, 1975.
Husak's retirement as party general secretary may open the way for the Czechoslovak party to embrace Soviet-style reforms.
Mikhail S. Gorbachev today cabled congratulations to Jakes from Moscow.
CTK quoted the Soviet leader as saying that Jakes "will ensure the implementation of the extensive tasks . . . of further development and revival of socialism in Czechoslovakia." The agency said the telegram mentioned restructuring the economy and democratizing political life.
The use of the keynote words of Gorbachev's own reforms and the phrase "revival of socialism" suggested the Kremlin leader sees Jakes as a man who will carry out policies akin to the liberalization under way in the Soviet Union.
Few Radical Changes Seen
However, Western diplomats said that they foresee few radical changes in Czechoslovakia's cautious course to political and economic reform following the change in leadership.
"He is certainly not a Gorbachevian figure. . . . Over time it must be considered an interim administration," one diplomat told Reuters news service.
CTK said Husak, who suffers from poor eyesight, asked to be relieved of the top party post and to retire from the influential Central Committee secretariat, which formulates day-to-day party policy. He will keep his seat on the ruling Politburo.
Husak took over leadership of the party in 1969 after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed then-leader Alexander Dubcek's democratic reforms.
As chairman of the party's chief watchdog body, the Central Control and Auditing Commission from 1968 to December, 1977, Jakes presided over the ouster of more than 460,000 party members in the purges that followed Dubcek's departure.
Jakes long had been regarded as a potential successor to Husak.