08-06-2001

The triumphant face of Tony Blair appears on most of today's front pages, following Labour's landslide victory in the British general election. But this top international story has been overshadowed by a serious domestic concern, as Czechs await the outcome of tests on a six-year-old cow that could confirm the first case of BSE in the country, and also the first in eastern Europe.

"Mad cow disease almost a certainty" says Zemske noviny on a note of doom. "Farmers hold their breath" says Mlada fronta Dnes. Lidove noviny reports that the government has held an emergency session to consider measures - including financial aid - if BSE has indeed spread to the Czech Republic.

Testing all the country's cattle would cost hundreds of millions of crowns and the government is bracing for budget cuts in all spheres should the worst-case scenario materialise. "One thing is clear," says Pravo, "whatever the outcome of this test, the public needs to know that the beef in our stores is safe. In other words farmers will have to consider testing all the cattle they put up for sale".

Ironically, the farm from which the suspected BSE meat sample came is one which tests all its cattle - so their meat can be considered safer than most others. Small farmers fear that the extra cost of testing all cattle could put them out of business and the meat industry is despondent - the blow came just as beef sales had slowly started to rise again.

Reports of the detention of four Northern Ireland football players involved in an incident at a nightclub in Prague are splashed over most of today's front pages. The bruised face of one of the club's bouncers is featured in Lidove noviny, and there's generally little sympathy for the players, who got into a fight early in the morning after allegedly refusing to pay their bill. The players themselves say they were asked to pay the same bill twice.

Most commentators link the incident to Northern Ireland's 3:1 loss against the Czechs the night before, saying that a combination of anger and alcohol fueled the dispute. Having been defeated on the pitch the four clearly wanted to take home some happier memories of Czech girls, claims Pravo. Instead they spent a day at the police station drying out and being questioned. All of them have been charged with being drunk and disorderly and are likely to be fined.

It's not often that a judge is taken to court. This week seven judges found themselves in this unenviable position, having been made to face disciplinary charges for what an inspection team of the justice ministry labeled as "long-term inactivity". Cases assigned to them failed to get a hearing for over 7 years.

Lidove noviny has high praise for deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky who initiated this inspection while temporarily serving as justice minister following Otakar Motejl's resignation from the post. Minister Rychetsky proved a good caretaker and the new justice minister Jaroslav Bures would do well to follow his example, the paper says.

The low credit the Czech judiciary has in the eyes of the public is mainly due to the long waiting periods before a case comes to court and the fact that many cases drag on for months or years. The EU has repeatedly expressed concern about this, urging the government to effect a proper reform of the Czech judiciary.

08-06-2001