Press Review

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The Czech-Cuban crisis continues to fill the front pages of all the dailies as Czech diplomats seek ways to secure the release of the two Czech nationals accused of trying to undermine the Castro regime. A fortnight into the crisis, there are heated disputes in Prague as to what is the best course of action. Most politicians contacted by the press agree with President Havel's sharp rejection of Cuba's demand for an apology, insisting that the Czech Republic has nothing to apologize for. Karel Kuhnl of the four party coalition suggests that it is, in fact, Cuba that should apologize to the Czech Republic.

While some politicians argue that Prague should not demean itself by negotiating via the Czech Communist Party or seeking help from Cuba's allies, others suggest that fewer public statements and more behind-the-scenes negotiations would be far more effective. The Communist Party, not altogether surprisingly, has expressed the view that the Czech Republic should apologize. Communist party chairman Miroslav Grebenicek, who has been meeting with Cuba's charge d'affaires in Prague, tells PRAVO that it is up to Prague to be more forthcoming if it wants to set the country's nationals free, while his deputy, Vaclav Exner, suggests that "a tentative apology" would open the way to dialogue.

Meanwhile, a veritable storm of controversy is reported to have broken out in Parliament over an interview in yesterday's PRAVO with the Civic Democratic Party MP Jan Zahradil, in which Mr Zahradil suggests that it was quite possible that Ivan Pilip went to Cuba on a mission for the American organisation Freedom House. In the interview Mr Zahradil says that he himself refused precisely such an offer some time ago. The interview likewise contains a none-too-positive description of Ivan Pilip as a person and Mr Zahradil suggests that Pilip's visit to Cuba was unlikely to have been purely altruistic.

Today's PRAVO again picks up the story. There were raised voices in Parliament all morning, it writes, with some MPs of the four party coalition calling Zahradil "a lousy bastard", "a wretch" and "the scum of society". Others said they would never shake his hand again. Even members of the Civic Democrats suggested that Zahradil had gone too far and distanced themselves from his words. PRAVO's report of these angry behind the scenes disputes includes another heavy-calibre statement from the Czech Prime Minister. He is alleged to have expressed the opinion that Pilip's plight in Cuba is a well orchestrated political game to raise his chances of becoming party leader.

Away from the Czech-Cuban crisis, MLADA FRONTA DNES reports on the stir a man caused at a Prague police station on Thursday afternoon when he walked in with a test tube containing mustard gas. Within minutes members of a special chemical unit and the local fire brigade had evacuated the building to ascertain, to their horror, that the test tube which the man carelessly brought in in a shopping bag after arriving on the bus was indeed mustard gas. "If the tube had broken here it would have killed everyone in the building," a chemical expert said, adding, "I don't even want to think about what might have happened on the bus..." The man allegedly found it in a house he'd inherited and the police are now said to be conducting a thorough search of the place.

On a different topic, LIDOVE NOVINY carries a front page article on a new meat scare in neighbouring Germany and Austria, this time related to pork. German and Austrian food inspectors report a high level of antibiotics found in meat, and say this could have adverse effects on consumers. The presence of antibiotics in the food chain is said to reduce the effectiveness of medicine and some doctors believe it to be linked to some forms of cancer in humans. Allegedly 900 farms in Germany and 500 in Austria are in trouble for feeding their livestock vast amounts of antibiotics and various growth hormones.

The Czech Food Inspection authorities claim that Czech meat is safe, and is under strict control, but as with the beef scare the issue is not likely to leave Czechs unconcerned.