The year of the Monkey has started - that appears to be the main international story in today's Czech papers. On the domestic front, the dailies offer a mixed bag of stories on their front pages.
MLADA FRONTA DNES gets back to the case of the popular Czech actress Jirina Bohdalova and writes that politicians are considering changing the law following a court ruling on Wednesday in which Mrs Bohdalova won a case she had taken against the Interior Ministry. The court ruled that she was wrongfully listed in the files of communist secret police.
However, MLADA FRONTA DNES says, according to the law her name cannot be deleted from the files even though the court ruled Mrs Bohdalova had not collaborated with the secret police. Several MPs from both the opposition and the ruling coalition are now considering putting forward an amendment to the law. There have been a number of such cases, but only when a celebrity is involved, politicians are willing to take action, MLADA FRONTA DNES writes.
LIDOVE NOVINY reports that only a small proportion of policemen who break the law are taken to court. Czech police have set a sad record, the daily says, as a record number of 513 police officers were charged with criminal offences last year. However, only around half of them were accused and a mere 91 were sentenced. LIDOVE NOVINY says that with other offenders, over 90 percent of those who are charged are taken to court.
Many police officers receive disciplinary punishments and these don't feature in the statistics, LIDOVE NOVINY writes. The paper adds that the most frequent offence committed by policemen is abuse of power, which includes bribery, forging documents, drug trafficking and also blackmailing. Traffic offences are a serious problem, the paper writes. Between 1996 and 2002 Czech police officers caused more than 5,000 accidents in which 14 people were killed and almost a hundred seriously injured.
PRAVO reports that there is disagreement within the ruling coalition over VAT rates. While some officials, including the finance minister, want the 5-percent and the 22-percent rates to move closer to each other after EU accession, a large part of the senior coalition Social Democrats would like to see a third, 12-percent VAT rate introduced. The latter argue that a convergence of the existing two rates would cause a hike in prices of food and medicine, for example. The coalition representatives are to decide on February 1.
Staying with VAT and increasing prices, MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that the date of the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union, May 1st, 2004 will see more price hikes. Restaurants will be subject to the 22-percent VAT rate which will make eating out noticeably more expensive. The paper points out that babies' diapers will be transferred to the 22-percent bracket and it is no longer possible to negotiate an exception with Brussels. So mothers with young children, prepare to fork out 17 percent more for your baby's nappies.
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