19-03-2002

Both Lidove noviny and Mlada fronta Dnes devote much of their front pages to the Czech chemical unit from the North Bohemian town of Liberec, which left for Kuwait on Monday night. Whilst Lidove noviny features a photograph of the soldiers in their new gear - special uniforms and boots for desert operations, the photo in Mlada fronta Dnes focuses on Czech President Vaclav Havel's final words of encouragement to the unit at Prague's Ruzyne airport on Monday night.

Both papers, though, describe in detail where the unit will be, what it will do, and how long it is expected to stay in the Middle East. Lidove noviny reports that there are 252 soldiers in total, out of which seven are women. They are to guard the Camp Doha U.S. military base and are expected to stay for half a year. The whole mission will cost some 560 million Czech crowns.

Mlada fronta Dnes takes the opportunity to look at other parts of the world where Czech soldiers are located. In Kosovo they form part of KFOR, there is a Czech field hospital in Afghanistan, and now a chemical unit has been deployed to Kuwait. Czech soldiers are also monitoring political developments in Sierra Leone, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Georgia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

And on the domestic front, three months before the general elections, Pravo concentrates on the role of MPs in their constituencies. However, instead of providing an analysis of their election campaigns, it reports that most citizens wanting to meet the candidates in their regions find it difficult to find them at their offices.

The paper writes that its reporters spent two Mondays visiting eight randomly selected candidates in their Central Bohemian constituencies. It gives a detailed plan of the dates and times that they visited the eight offices and sadly notes that only one MP - Civic Democrat Jan Klas - was found working in his office. The paper concludes by asking why parliament pays for the offices of MP's if many of them do not bother to be there at a time when it should be in their interest to be available to potential voters.

Shocking figures in Mlada fronta Dnes grab the reader's attention to the paper's topic of the day - the maltreatment of children. The paper writes that according to the Fund for Children at Risk, 20,000 children under the age of 15 are maltreated every year. Most cases fail to be uncovered and on average, the police have only had the chance to investigate on 150 suspects annually out of which about a third end up in court. The paper also highlights the appalling fact that about twelve children commit suicide every year because they are in fear of their parents. Czech law therefore also includes psychological trauma in the definition of maltreatment, as many of the affected children are locked up in cellars or forced to sleep on cold bathroom floors by their parents.

Hospodarske noviny devotes an article on its front page to clearly show its disappointment in the current government. It writes that the minority ruling Social Democrats had failed in their promise to keep the national debt down. The paper writes that the public finance deficit has doubled since 1997. In the course of last year, it reached 345 billion Czech crowns, which is more than double the amount the current government inherited from the previous right- wing cabinet, the paper states.

On the same note, however, Lidove noviny looks into the reasons behind the steep increase in the national debt. It says that the Social Democrat government is only partially to blame as the previous government allowed for several sectors, the banking sector for example, to get out of control and that needed costly fixing. The paper adds though that the Social Democrats ARE responsible for the wasteful allocation of much of the state budget.

Mlada fronta Dnes writes that the Czech cabinet decided on Monday, to restitute property to several Jewish communities around the country. In total, 20 buildings are to be returned to their Jewish owners, after having been confiscated from them by the Nazis and later becoming Czech state property. Besides several cemeteries and buildings, they include a synagogue in South Bohemia that is currently housing a police station, two more synagogues in North-West Bohemia holding district archives and a cottage, which is still being used by the Czech army.

The Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities, Tomas Kraus, tells the paper that the cabinet's decision is appreciated - as it concerns property that the Jewish community has been fighting for, for years - but points out that it is just a very small portion of what is rightfully theirs. Whilst it will be difficult to evict most of the people living in some of the buildings in question, many of those that were used by the state, Mr Kraus continued, will most probably serve as old-people's homes.

19-03-2002