Press Review

The war in Afghanistan is overshadowed somewhat by events elsewhere today: all the papers lead with yet another appalling fire in an Alpine road tunnel, plus news of the latest violence in the Middle East. Meanwhile back home in the Czech Republic, the minister who was depicted in compromising positions in a pornographic cartoon gets his day in court, and why are the Czech and Russian intelligence services seemingly at war?

Why indeed - LIDOVE NOVINY examines the timing of a report issued by the Czech counter-intelligence service, which claimed on Wednesday that Russian intelligence agents were seeking to infiltrate the Czech defence and transport ministries. According to the report, Russian intelligence is trying to harm the Czech Republic's international image and sow doubts among the Czech public about public institutions.

But the paper says it's highly suspicious that the service has decided to release the report now, just as Prime Minister Milos Zeman has managed to settle some of Russia's outstanding debt to the Czech Republic, and a few weeks after he expressed support for Russia's membership of NATO.

Why was such a strongly-worded report released at this particular moment in time? asks LIDOVE NOVINY. Is it just an old report that intelligence officials didn't have to time - or didn't want to - update? Or is the Czech intelligence service trying to influence foreign policy by manipulating public opinion? The man who should be answering these questions is Vladimir Spidla, deputy Prime Minister responsible for running the country's intelligence services. If, that is, he is running them, concludes the paper.

Karel Brezina, at 29 the youngest minister in the Social Democrat cabinet, finally had his day in court on Wednesday, winning a libel action against the publishers of the popular weekly magazine Reflex. A cartoon in the magazine had depicted Mr Brezina - whose playboy image has made him the darling of tabloids and women's magazines - indulging in graphic sex acts with both male and female party colleagues.

The publisher was ordered to apologise to Mr Brezina, says PRAVO. But the man who penned the offending cartoon, Stepan Mares, says Mr Brezina has made a fool of himself. "It's interesting that a satire like this has upset the youngest minister in the cabinet, while his older colleagues merely shrug their shoulders," he told the paper.

Meanwhile the magazine's lawyer says it was Mr Brezina himself who created the image of playboy and Czech Don Juan, boasting on television that he'd had 40 sexual partners and once judging a beautiful legs contest. And wasn't it the Prime Minister himself, Milos Zeman, who described him as a 'sex maniac'? asks the lawyer. Mr Brezina's opposition rival Ivan Langer, however, tells PRAVO that there are lines a "serious" publication such as Reflex simply shouldn't cross. "It's just a shame that these lines have to be drawn up in court," he says.

Staying on a pornographic theme, and MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that news stands are defying a Prague City Council regulation banning the sale of sex magazines in the city centre. Hardcore pornography is on display at every outdoor news stand, but the magazines were hidden away on Tuesday as police and city officials roved the city to make sure the ban was being respected. The next day, says the paper, the porn was back on the streets.

The people who operate the news stands are angry at being singled out, saying the ban doesn't apply to newsagents. They say either porn should only be available in sex shops, or in both newsagents and news stands. But the new regulation is clearly discriminatory, they tell MLADA FRONTA DNES.