05-03-2001

The panic over foot-and-mouth disease has hit continental Europe, and the Czech Republic is no exception. The papers report on newly-quarantined areas in Belgium, France and Denmark and precautions that the Czech Republic has taken at border crossing points and airports. ZEMSKE NOVINY notes that the EU is considering lifting a ban on foot-and-mouth vaccines. The Czech Veterinary Authority says it has several million vaccines in storage, and has not ruled out the possibility of using them if the situation worsens.

On a different topic, this weekend's conference of the right-of-centre Freedom Union receives in-depth coverage in the papers today. The conference appears to have confirmed earlier speculation of serious conflict inside the Four-Party Coalition, the loose alliance of four right-of-centre parties in which the Freedom Union plays a leading role.

The conference dashed hopes of the Four-Party Coalition integrating into a single right-of-centre party, and some commentators say the alliance may not be able to stay together long enough to present a serious challenge to the ruling Social Democrats and their opposition allies, the Civic Democrats.

"Freedom Union slams Christian Democrats" and "Freedom Union refuses to play second fiddle" read some of today's front page headlines. The Freedom Union has approved the names of 14 candidates to seven shadow Cabinet posts - but the commentators are not impressed.

They're the same old faces, says Martin Komarek of MLADA FRONTA DNES, faces which we saw in the former coalition government of Vaclav Klaus. The only difference is that back then they were Civic Democratic Party ministers. The main concern of our politicians is who can work with whom - instead of what needs to be done for the country and how they would go about doing it, Komarek notes.

Meanwhile, Martin Danes of the same paper writes about the absurdity of the country having two shadow cabinets - one courtesy of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, who enjoy a power-sharing deal with the ruling Social Democrats, and another courtesy of the Four-Party Coalition, which wants as little as possible to do with the Civic Democrats and which obviously has trouble sorting out its own power struggles. Is it not enough that we have one incompetent cabinet? What have we done to deserve two incompetent shadow cabinets into the bargain? - Danes asks.

Moving on, and LIDOVE NOVINY reports that a new court battle between the Czech Republic and the American media mogul and heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire, Ronald Lauder, was launched at precisely 9.30 am in London today. Mr Lauder, whose media company CME helped launch the Czech Republic's hugely successful TV Nova channel, and was forced out of the joint enterprise following a conflict with its management, claims he has lost out on millions of dollars of investments and is suing the Czech Republic for allegedly violating the protection of investment agreement the country had signed with the United States.

And finally, if the mayor of Hradec Kralove needed proof that something should be done about teenage crime in his city, now he's got it, says PRAVO. Three boys, aged eleven, fourteen and sixteen, stole his Skoda Octavia car and went joyriding in it over the weekend.

A man who saw the 14-year-old behind the wheel stopped the youths by jumping in front of the car, says the paper. Police officers who arrived on the scene a few minutes later discovered that the boys had stolen the car keys, along with the mayor's wallet and mobile, and walked around the car park until they found the right car.

05-03-2001