22-07-2003

Tuesday's meeting of lower house deputies during which they are expected to engage in heated debate over the government's fiscal reform plan, the accident caused by a primary candidate for the post of Justice Minister, and the charges of sexual harassment brought against one of the country's leading sculptors are the main stories making the front pages. All dailies also carry a different photo: people flock to the swimming pools in LIDOVE NOVINY and Tour de France leader Lance Armstrong is featured in MLADA FRONTA DNES.

HOSPODARSKE NOVINY - the country's leading business daily - looks into the plight of Czech hospitals and health insurance companies which face a debt totalling some 24 billion Czech crowns. The paper says the Czech government approved a health ministry plan on Monday, according to which the Czech Consolidation Agency - a government agency active in the restructuring of loss-making companies - would buy up some fifty percent of the debt. That, say economists, is a bad idea.

Shadow Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlusty of the opposition Civic Democrats, for example, tells the paper the plan simply "sweeps the debt under the carpet", adding it makes no sense to help hospitals and insurance companies before a systematic reform plan is made to ensure that the health sector does not end up acquiring more debts. The paper also quotes Pavel Mertlik, the former Finance Minister and advisor to current Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who says a clear concept of reform has to exist as it is obvious that the health sector does not function as it is.

LIDOVE NOVINY notes that a man who caused an accident by driving a car under the influence of alcohol this January is heading for the government. Vladimir Papez is most likely going to replace Pavel Rychetsky who is vacating the post of Justice Minister to become a Constitutional Court judge. The paper says, despite the drunk driving incident, Mr Papez does not believe he has no place in government and sends all those who object to his appointment as minister the following message: "let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

The paper goes on to say that Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Vladimir Spidla is eager to name Mr Papez Justice Minister as he is desperate at increasing the number of supporters within his party. The paper quotes an unnamed source, close to Mr Spidla, who claims another motivating factor in the Prime Minster's decision is the fact that both men come from the same region. By proving not to have forgotten about his party colleagues in South Bohemia, Mr Spidla is guaranteed higher support in the region, he tells the paper.

PRAVO interviews a climatologist from the Czech Hydro-Meteorological Institute about the tropical weather currently swaying the Czech Republic. Jan Pretel tells the paper that there is no cause for concern; the heat wave is just a natural part of the summer. However, what he says has clearly signalled a change in climate is the lack of rain in the months of February, March, June and July. This backs a theory by climatologists that temperatures in the Czech Republic will increase by two to three degrees Celsius in the next fifty to one hundred years. Mr Pretel points out that it is a significant development and compares it to the last century, in which the overall temperature on earth increased by more than half a degree Celsius.

Both MLADA FRONTA DNES and PRAVO feature Czech sculptor Pavel Opocensky on their front pages, who faces fresh charges of at least seven new counts of sexual harassment. Czech police say Mr Opocensky has been accused of making phone calls to twelve-year-old girls, giving them detailed accounts of his sexual experiences and trying to lure them into visiting. Both papers make note of Mr Opocensky not being a one-time offender.

The forty-eight year old artist has already admitted to having had sexual contact with under-age girls, claiming he did not know they were minors at the time. He continued to assert his innocence by adding he had helped the girls financially and even contributed to their education by giving them English lessons. Despite having been charged with sexual abuse three times, Mr Opocensky has managed to receive a presidential pardon and even got out of a three year prison sentence, the papers note.

22-07-2003