06-12-2001

The big splash in Thursday's papers is Bill Gates's visit to Prague: the head of Microsoft has offered a generous package in the form of free copies of the Windows operating system for Czech schools within the education system's state-wide Internet project.

Hospodarske noviny writes that Gates's donation will save an estimated 325 million crowns in the project's budget. The daily Lidove noviny shows the world's richest man posing for the cameras, surrounded by a classroom of Czech school kids, a happy teacher, and the child stars of the upcoming Czech film, Mach and Sebestova.

Meanwhile the daily Pravo offers a much more sombre picture, with the latest suicide bombing in Israel. Featured on the front page is a colour photograph of the suicide bomber's remains strewn across a Jerusalem street. Weak stomachs or weak hearts be warned. No-one else was killed in the attack, but 11 people were injured.

Clearly there is no sign of the situation in the Middle East calming down as the holiday season approaches. Stories on the Czech Republic's Mikulas holiday, where adults dress up as St Nicholas to give children sweets and may seem a bit frivolous by comparison.

One of Pravo's other main stories features Czech opposition leader Vaclav Klaus and what some critics see as his latest faux pas in Brussels. The controversial politician once again stepped up his rhetoric criticising the EU and the Czech Republic's role within it, and has come under fire from the minority Social Democrat government at home.

Lidove noviny quotes Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky as saying that Mr Klaus "evidently does not understand the meaning of European integration", but Mr Klaus would probably beg to differ.

Moving on to other political figures, Thursday's Mlada fronta Dnes offers a top story in its colour supplement on the Czech Republic's First Lady, Dagmar Havlova. The story maps her fascinating rise to the position, with graphs tracking her levels of popularity and the pros and cons of her professional image.

From the material it is possible to deduce that Mrs Havlova's popularity has stabilised in recent years, though in the past she has come under public criticism for her spontenaity and verve. The paper says her popularity reached its greatest heights in 1998, when she sat by husband Vaclav Havel's bedside after the president almost died from a sudden intestinal problem.

And...anyone up for a bit of scandal? Shady bankers are in the news as Hospodarske noviny writes that two suspects have been taken into custody on charges that they may have embbezeled two and a half billion crowns from the CSOB bank.

The paper writes that investigators waited for one of the suspects to return from abroad, before moving in to make arrests. In the meantime the holdings of both former bank employees were seized, worth about 10 million crowns. The former employees were made redundant last year, for serious breaches in professionalism and personal discipline.

Hmm. Well, if proven guilty both of the accused could face up to 12 years in prison: what a way to spend Christmas...

And finally... one last look at Lidove noviny, and news that one of the Czech Republic's most popular rock groups Lucie have decided to boycott the upcoming Slavik awards, given yearly for outstanding musical achievements in the Czech Republic.

The paper writes that the group does not agree with the stylisation and overall dramaturgy of the gala evening, which will be broadcast by the country's most successful commercial television station TV Nova. The daily writes that the rock group "disagrees with the station's approach to art in several shows, which are in conflict with the image the group presents in its recordings, music videos, and in concert". TV Nova has declined to comment.

06-12-2001