Press Review

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The ongoing blockade of the transport ministry by used car importers and driving school operators dominates the headlines of Czech daily newspapers today. Some of the papers carry photographs of protesting drivers sitting in the road to stop the traffic outside the ministry, demanding the resignation of the minister of transport, Jaromir Schling.

"Chaos in Prague, Schling refuses to step down," reads a headline in Lidove noviny. The paper writes that it is impossible to tell how long the blockades will continue, as the protesters have spent last night in their cars and are determined to keep the blockade in place until the minister goes. The Prime Minister, however, has refused to sack him, and his spokesman has compared the protesters to the Communists who staged a coup in 1948 to seize power in Czechoslovakia.

However Pravo, which is close to the Social Democrat government, sums up the arguments for Mr. Schling's resignation and asks whether the demands are justified. The main objections concern new, more difficult driving tests, and a new law on used car imports which bans imports of second-hand cars older than 5 years and complicates imports of such cars from countries other than the European Union.

The paper arrives at the conclusion that Mr Schling will most likely remain in office, as it's too close to a general election for a government reshuffle. Besides that, this would be the first time in Czech history that the government has had three transport ministers in a single election term.

Another dominant issue in the papers today is the European Parliament's resolution on the Czech Republic's preparedness for EU membership. Among other things, the resolution suggests that the Czech Republic should consider shutting down the Temelin nuclear power station and that the European Commission could provide financial compensation.

However, Lidove noviny writes that it is too early for German and Austrian anti-nuclear activists to rejoice. Money or European appeals will hardly change the Czech government's stance on a project which it considers the pride of Czech workmanship, the paper concludes.

The business daily Hospodarske noviny comments on the draft state budget passed by the cabinet on Wednesday. Although both the final revenues and expenditures are higher than the original proposal, no one is satisfied, since individual ministries demanded far more than economic performance would allow. While budget spending is a law and must be observed, revenues usually fall short of the government's expectations. The deficit of public finances is widening and sooner or later, it will hit all taxpayers hard, Hospodarske noviny concludes pessimistically.

And finally, Mlada fronta Dnes reports that the minister of agriculture, Jan Fencl, has been preparing a law which would once and for al make the Budweiser brewery the property of the state. According to the newspaper, Mr Fencl is convinced that privatisation of Budvar would open the way for the American giant Anheuser-Busch to liquidate its trade-mark rival.