18-12-2003

Several items feature heavily in today's headlines, not least amongst them George Bush's comment in an interview with American journalist Diane Sawyer that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who deserved the "ultimate penalty". MLADA FRONTA DNES and other dailies speculate on the cultural clash between the U.S. and Europe on the death penalty, with the daily noting that 152 criminals were executed during Mr Bush's governorship of Texas.

On another note PRAVO features a photo of Mr Bush sitting next to actor John Travolta as the two, along with 30,000 others, awaited the flight of a replica of the original Kittyhawk airplane, in North Carolina, in honour of 100 years of aviation and the first successful flight by the Wright Brothers. Yesterday's flight, however, was less than a success: the replica crashed to the muddy ground after just several metres - reminding all just how difficult the Wright Brother's project had been. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic grappled through-out Wednesday whether to acquire new planes of its own - fighter jets to replace the Czech Air Force's aging fleet of MiGs.

Will the tender finally go through? LIDOVE NOVINY writes that Wednesday night the Czech government gave the nod to the Swede's offer for 14 new Gripens for the Czech Air Force, following a special commission's recommendation over offers from countries including Holland, Belgium, and the U.S. As the daily indicates, not all is cut-and-dried: Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka has been given till February 28th to negotiate the exact terms of deal with Sweden, and even the Czech prime minister has admitted that in the end the tender may not fly. Not much of a "done deal", at least, not yet.

Speaking of done deals, reporters Sabina Slonkova and Jakub Unger have been investigating interesting dealings by the country's top politicians in relation to the game of football. In HOSPODARSKE NOVINY Ms Slonkova and Mr Unger write that MPs have been using their political clout to lobby for everything from minor league clubs, to finding necessary funds for a first division stadium.

For example, Social Democrat Michal Kraus, who is the president of second-division side Kladno, is said to have arranged 18 million crowns in funds from the state budget, while Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban helped another club with a 12 million crown subsidy. And, Civic Democrat MPs Vlastimil Tlusty and Jaroslav Plachy helped raise millions for a stadium for first division team Synot.

Asked why they had lobbied so hard on football's behalf MP Jaroslav Plachy admitted finding money was important in voters' eyes, saying lobbying for finances showed not only support for the game, but support for individual towns. The problem that looms is one of ethics and shady dealings: the authors write that off-the-record sources have told them that the politicians get kick-backs for their efforts: VIP tickets, paid trips abroad. Those allegations, however, are being denied.

Finally, good news at last for Czech men, who can breathe a little easier and that's not all.... MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that thanks to improved quality of air in the Czech Republic the quality of Czech men's sperm - yes, you heard me right - is better than eleven years ago. Industrialised areas like Most were chosen in a unique scientific study that found that men's sperm in those areas where more agile and less defective than before. The result, though applies for the whole country. The long and short of it is: bad air equals low reproduction, better air: happy productive sperm.

18-12-2003