07-11-2001

Not surprisingly the crisis in the country's beleaguered commercial TV sector hits the headlines this morning, with TV Nova raided by fraud squad officers and TV3 going blank in the space of 12 hours. Also making news is George Bush's warning that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network is trying to obtain nuclear weapons, amid claims that al Qaeda cells have been operating in Central Europe.

Mlada fronta Dnes gets the knives out for the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan once again today - "Kavan's Ambition To Cost 113 Million" reads a front-page headline. The ambition in question is Foreign Minister Jan Kavan's bid to become Chairman of the U.N. General Assembly in 2002, and the paper claims that Mr Kavan has so far raised 113 million crowns for "his" campaign.

"The tax payer is sponsoring Kavan's personal political ambitions," says opposition Civic Democrat MP Petr Necas, while another opposition figure Michael Zantovsky says it's appalling that the government is planning to spend twice as much on the largely ceremonial post than on the country's 17 Czech centres sprinkled around the globe.

But Mlada fronta Dnes is being slightly economical with the facts - the Chairman of the General Assembly post is actually co-financed between the United Nations and the country providing the candidate, and the 113 million crowns are regular maintenance funds used to pay staff and rent at the chairman's New York offices. Mr Kavan himself says if he does win the post, he'll be representing the Czech Republic, not himself or his party.

Lidove noviny revels in reports that Prime Minister Milos Zeman faced some awkward questions from students at Stanford University on Monday. The students quizzed the Czech P.M. about his threat to force the critical weekly Respekt out of print with a barrage of lawsuits. He explained that the weekly had called his cabinet corrupt - and therefore must explain the accusations in court.

The paper says the Prime Minister told students his wife complained that he still owned a meagre one-bedroom flat. If I was corrupt, he told students, I'd be living in a villa by now. What arrant nonsense, says Lidove noviny. Look at the world through Mr Zeman's looking glass, it says, and ignore reality.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik tells Pravo he refuses to apologise to Czech aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody, makers of the ill-fated L-159 jet fighter. Mr Tvrdik said on Monday that the L-159 was so unreliable it posed more of a threat to the pilot flying it than to the enemy, and lamented the fact that of 72 planes commissioned by the Czech air force, Aero had only supplied 24.

Mr Tvrdik's stinging words of criticism have been slammed by both the company and opposition politicians, but he's sticking to them. "I have no intention of apologising. I'm responsible for the Czech Army. The safety of my soldiers is an absolute priority," he says in an interview with the paper.

And finally Mlada fronta Dnes says Prague's local coppers are up in arms over calls to merge them with the national police. The Czech Republic has two police forces - a national force which deals in serious crime and directs the traffic, and a town police force controlled by the local council, whose officers walk the streets to deter potential wrong-doers. The Prague chief of the national police wants to merge the town police with the national police to save money and increase efficiency, but the town police aren't at all happy with the idea.

"Having a town police force pays off," a senior Prague officer tells the paper. "Our main advantage is that we're out on the streets. The places we don't patrol become havens for organised crime. The uniform has the effect of scaring off local villains," he says. Prague Mayor Jan Kasl is also against the plan, saying the country's mayors would be up in arms. "No mayor is going to allow the national police to take away his town police. It's his last instrument of power," he tells Mlada fronta Dnes.

07-11-2001