Today's Czech dailies lead with a variety of stories: PRAVO reports that gas and electricity prices are to rise from the beginning of January, LIDOVE NOVINY says MPs have crudely insulted Education Minister Petra Buzkova, while MLADA FRONTA DNES leads with the story that children's hospitals around the Czech Republic are to be closed.

The health minister, Marie Souckova, plans to reduce the number of hospital beds for Czech children by almost a quarter between now and 2006, the paper says. A health ministry spokesperson says some hospitals are no longer needed, as the county's birth-rate is falling.

With the closures some parents will have to travel longer distances with their children. "Jezismarja", or "Jesus and Mary" was the reaction of one mother in Ostrava when MLADA FRONTA DNES told her that her local children's hospital was due to be closed.

PRAVO reports that the minister of foreign affairs, Cyril Svoboda, was not too pleased by an article in Wednesday's MLADA FRONTA DNES written by the Czech ambassador to Kuwait, Jana Hybaskova. Ms Hybaskova slammed the decision to withdraw a Czech military field hospital from neighbouring Iraq, saying there was a lack of political will to see things through to the end.

Mr Svoboda's spokesman said airing such views in public was not the done thing for a diplomat. Recalling the field hospital was a government decision, he tells PRAVO, and Ms Hybaskova, as a representative of the Czech state, should respect it.

In LIDOVE NOVINY, Jiri Dienstbier, who was the first Czechoslovak foreign minister after the Velvet Revolution, recalls his dealings with Eduard Shevardnaze, the recently ousted president of Georgia. Negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia began on December 22, 1989, just over a month after the beginning of the Velvet Revolution.

In February 1990 Mr Dienstbier and other Czech officials travelled to the Kremlin to hold face to face talks with the Soviets, including Mr Shevardnaze, who was Mikhail Gorbachov's foreign minister at that time. Mr Dientsbier describes his then counterpart as one of the most open members of the Politburo, and credits him for insisting on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Bloc countries. As for Mr Shevardnaze's recent fate, Jiri Dienstbier says that though he made mistakes, he prevented civil unrest and bloodshed and maintained human dignity.

PRAVO reports on a book signing in Prague on Wednesday by the much-loved comic duo Zdenek Sverak and Ladislav Smolak. The two actors signed copies of the latest play "Afrika" "by" Jara Cimrman, their best known comic creation. The owner of the bookshop, located in the capital's Vinohrady district, said the last time they had seen such a queue it was for the former president, Vaclav Havel.