Press Review

All the Czech newspapers today feature photographs of Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik, who resigned from his post two days ago and held a press conference on Wednesday to explain his actions to journalists. MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that Prime Minister Milos Zeman has already chosen Mertlik's successor: the two favourites are Labour and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla, who is also now the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party, or his deputy minister, Jiri Rusnok.

According to the paper, the prime minister has described Mr. Spidla as being the most reliable candidate. "You can shoot from the hip with him, he'll solve any problem within 24 hours," Zeman is quoted as saying. MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that if Vladimir Spidla is appointed as the new Finance Minister, then Rusnok will be promoted to run the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. As to which of these two men will become the new Czech Finance Minister, Prime Minister Milos Zeman is playing his cards close to his chest, saying that he has to discuss it first with President Vaclav Havel before making any announcement.

"Brussels tells Czechs they won't be able to work in the EU for at least five years," reads a headline in LIDOVE NOVINY. The paper reports on a European Commission proposal made in Brussels on Wednesday that Czechs, like the citizens of the other candidate countries, should not be allowed to seek employment in current EU member states for five years after the Czech Republic joins the EU.

This proposal has been made under pressure from Austria and Germany, two EU member countries that share a border with the Czech Republic. According to the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, the issue of the free movement of labour within an enlarged European Union as very sensitive. Although he himself does not expect an influx of cheap labour from candidate countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to the EU countries, he said he had to take into consideration Austrian and German fears.

PRAVO today carries an amazing story about a German man who managed to keep some 15 kilograms of uranium in a house in the Czech Republic. The uranium was found by Czech police officers, with the assistance of specialists from the office for chemical and nuclear safety in the village of Poustevny in Northern Bohemia, where the man had rented a private house.

Inside the house, the man had set up a high-tech chemical laboratory, where he kept the uranium. The police said they could not disclose any details or names, as an information embargo has been imposed on the case. This is the largest amount of radioactive materials ever found in such a case, and required co-operation with Interpol officers to help find the uranium, concludes PRAVO.

ZEMSKE NOVINY features a story about a proposed law submitted by women MPs from the Social Democrat and Communist parties, which, if passed, would mean that alimony payments made to parents, who have divorced and have custody of their children, should be paid by the state. The MPs explained that mothers trying to bring up children on their own often don't receive any money from their ex-husbands, who simply disappear and don't send them a single penny.

The new law - if passed - would enable the state to take over responsibility for alimony payments and then retrieve this money from the errant parent who failed to pay up. MPs from right-wing parties, however, strongly oppose the draft legislation, saying this would impose a heavy burden on the state budget and they describe it as interference by the state in private family matters.