18-09-2001

All the Czech newspapers today carry pictures of the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in last week's attacks on the United States and report on President Bush's call that he wants him "dead or alive". But some of the papers bring a Czech angle to last week's attacks. LIDOVE NOVINY reports on Monday's discussion of the Czech cabinet which decided to punish anyone who expresses public support for the terrorist attacks.

The government's spokesman Libor Roucek points to the example of skinheads and football hooligans chanting support for bin Laden during several matches on Sunday. Some were openly showing their approval of the terrorist attacks, chanting bin Laden's name. The Interior Minister Stanislav Gross says that the Czech police will pay more attention to such manifestations, because, as Mr. Gross put it, "Public support for terrorism is a crime like any other crime and it must be punished accordingly," reports LIDOVE NOVINY.

After Monday's speculation that bin Laden's terrorists may possess anthrax and lethal botulo-toxin used for biological weapons, that could have come from Czech laboratories, PRAVO informs its readers that a crisis biological committee is currently in session in the Czech Republic. It is striving to ascertain if there is a real threat of biological terrorist attacks in the United States. One expert tells PRAVO that the matter is being discussed by managers of big hospitals, the Czech Republic's chief hygiene officer and academics.

The paper writes that the so-called "risk countries" have been working intensively on the development of biological weapons and that many of their scientists studied in the United States. Czech army and intelligence services are on alert, writes PRAVO, and they have been joined by fire officers who include specially trained chemical experts, as well as by the State Office for Nuclear Safety which is able to identify lethal agents.

On other domestic issues, MLADA FRONTA DNES reports on a draft law approved by the government on Monday, which - if approved - should tighten controls on smoking and drinking. Smokers who light up in bus and tram shelters will face a fine amounting to 1,000 crowns, or around 30 US dollars. Also all restaurant owners will have to ensure that 40 percent of their area is reserved for non-smokers.

MLADA FRONTA DNES adds that the bill will make access to cigarettes and alcohol more difficult, especially for teenagers, as many of them start smoking before their 16th birthday. Doctors agree with the proposal, although some say it could go still further. Doctor Eva Kralikova from Prague's Medical faculty says that reserving 40 percent of the space in restaurants is inadequate, because 70 percent of Czechs are non-smokers.

PRAZSKE SLOVO discusses another bill proposed by the cabinet - that will enable same-sex registered partnerships. But the bill is likely to have problems in parliament because a similar bill has already been rejected three times. A gay or lesbian couple's registered partnership would give them similar status as to couples in a heterosexual marriage. However, they would not be able to adopt a child.

Registered partnership is strongly opposed by the Czech Catholic Church, which has called on its congregations to put their signatures to a petition denouncing this way of life altogether. So far some 72, 000 people have signed, reports PRAZSKE SLOVO.

18-09-2001