Press Review

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Forty-nine-year-old Josef Jasik hits the headlines in today's PRAVO, for his defence of a very Czech record. In the space of just six minutes he managed to consume a staggering hundred and twenty-three plum dumplings, one of the heavier delicacies of the Czech national diet. But Mr Jasik is a little disappointed. He didn't quite live up to his figure last year of a hundred and twenty-five.

But it's Prime Minister Milos Zeman who dominates the front pages of most of the papers, with his suggestion that journalists from the paper MLADA FRONTA DNES could have been behind a smear campaign directed against his party colleague Petra Buzkova. Not surprisingly MLADA FRONTA DNES itself devotes considerable space to the story, including an editorial, which in no uncertain terms accuses the Prime Minister of using any tactic available to distract from the fact that the campaign was launched from somewhere within his own office.

MLADA FRONTA DNES's traditional rivals, LIDOVE NOVINY, on this occasion come firmly to the defence of their fellow journalists. Petruska Sustrova writes that Mr Zeman's strategy is a classic example of a politician who doesn't know where to turn lashing out at the easiest scapegoat--the press.

And two other papers, PRAVO and ZEMSKE NOVINY, both point out that many in Mr Zeman's Social Democratic Party are also highly sceptical about the Prime Minister's theory. Former minister Jaroslav Basta tells PRAVO that he reckons the campaign really was launched by one of the government's advisors. He adds that it would be almost impossible for a journalist to sneak into one of the government offices to plant the offending material.

Changing the subject, in today's LIDOVE NOVINY the president of the chamber representing Czech doctors, David Rath, comes to the defence of a new law that will make life almost impossible for faith healers, banning the great majority from doing business. He says that the Czech health system may have its flaws, and Czech doctors certainly could have done a better job in treating President Havel, during his series of recent illnesses, but this does not mean that some charlatan offering tap water or dried bat as a cure, would have done a better job. The new legislation, he concludes, will simply help Czechs to protect themselves from their own weaknesses.

MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that one of the most grizzly stories to plague the Czech capital in recent months could be drawing to a close. The trial is about to begin of Olexander Kravz, a man suspected of causing terror in the streets of Prague and described by police as the most brutal and dangerous criminal at loose in the city over recent years. He is charged with murdering one woman, attempting to kill another five and of a whole series of rapes and violent assaults. MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that Prague police had a whole team working on the case day and night, and have arrested Kravz on the basis of video recordings and DNA tests.

The financial daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY has a headline that's full of optimism. The days of confusion and ambiguity in the Czech banking sector could soon be over, the paper suggests. Now that the privatization of the big Czech banks is at last well under way, the whole banking sector should become more transparent and less prone to unwanted political influence.

In another banking story, today's ZEMSKE NOVINY, suggests that even though Parliament has now given the go-ahead to changes in the way the Czech National Bank is run, this is not the last we have heard of the story. The new rules, which critics say seriously limit the bank's autonomy, not only defy the Czech Constitution but also directly contradict European Union standards, the paper concludes.

And finally to a story also in ZEMSKE NOVINY that shows just how much depends on the fate of the Czech banking sector. The career of the Czech racing driver Tomas Enge could be in jeopardy. The trouble is that the young Jordan test driver--hotly tipped to become a future Formula 1 star--is managed by Antonin Charouz, who is suspected of having close associations with the collapse of the Czech bank IPB. According to a member of the McLaren Formula 3000 team, for which Enge races, his future in the team next season depends on Mr Charouz's financial support. But ZEMSKE NOVINY concludes that the situation is not as bad as looks. The young Czech is so talented that both Jordan and McLaren are likely to carry on doing all they can to woo him into their stable.