Press Review

Parliament's rejection of the government's state budget proposal for 2002 has come as no surprise. " It's the same old story" says Jan Smid in Mlada Fronta Dnes. " Every year we are treated to the same theatrics - the script is the same, the actors are the same and the conclusion is the same. At the end of the day the Social and Civic Democrats strike a deal and the budget is approved with only a few cosmetic changes. With parliamentary elections due to be held next year the opposition has no interest in rocking the boat" Smid concludes.

Voices were raised in the Lower House on Thursday but not over the state budget. "For the first time during the Social Democrats' term in office the Prime Minister shouted in Parliament" says Lidove Noviny . The paper reports that this unprecedented show of anger was sparked by a communist party official who asked the Prime Minister why the Czech Republic was supporting the murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

"You sir, remind me of a roaring dinosaur emerging from a smelly mire" the Prime Minister blazed. "Let me remind you that it was the communists who created theses terrorists during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. We are now having to deal with the consequences. And since you ask me about the murder of innocent civilians, please inform me what the former Soviet army did in Afghanistan and what it did during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia -if it wasn't murdering innocent civilians " the Prime Minister shouted, advising the communist party official that he and his party colleagues would be well advised

to keep silent on this painful issue. The heated exchange is featured in every single Czech paper today.

Lidove Noviny reports that three people have been charged with scare-mongering in connection with the anthrax scare, and the police are questioning a number of others, schoolchildren among them. The authorities have appealed to people tempted to play practical jokes to show some consideration. The country's fire brigades and police are said to be under enormous strain dealing with calls for help from the public. Over the last few days they have been called to over eight hundred cases of suspicious mail deliveries.

It is not clear how these pranksters will be punished but commentators agree that they should not be allowed to get off the hook easily. In today's Pravo Jiri Franek writes that the pranksters as "irresponsible idiots" who - whether they know it or not - are actually helping the terrorists. Only children can be forgiven such an act, Franek says.

In connection with the terrorist threat, Mlada Fronta Dnes notes that the interior ministry needs to clean out twenty thousand storage rooms containing civil defense equipment. The deputy interior minister Miroslav Stepan told the paper that the storage facilities were in pretty bad condition, overflowing with outdated equipment intended mostly for defense in the event of a carpet bombing. "We barely know what's in there" the official admitted. The whole system of civil defense needs an overhaul and the interior ministry is currently busy working on this project, Mlada Fronta says.

And finally on a different topic, the papers speculate about the fate of two newborns which a Ukrainian prostitute now living in the Czech Republic allegedly sold to adoptive parents for several hundred dollars. Social affairs minister Vladimir Spidla told Pravo that the children's best interests would be considered. We'll find a reasonable solution, he told the paper. At present the authorities have not ruled out that the couples who bought the babies illegally might be allowed to keep them if that should prove to be in the children's best interests.

The case has sparked a debate about the long waiting period for adoption and the fact that desperate parents sometimes decide to circumvent the law. The most recent case of this was an ad in the papers from a couple seeking a surrogate mother. "This happens everywhere and the Czech Republic is no exception" Health Minister Bohumil Fischer told the paper.