Press Review

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The war against terrorism continues to fill the front pages of all the Czech dailies.

Slovo reports that the US is increasing pressure on Afghanistan and the night bombings are being conducted on a much broader scale, increasingly maiming and killing civilians. "We know we are killing people. This is a war" a US admiral is quoted as saying. The paper quotes US Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying that the air strikes had intensified because the US wanted to conclude this stage of the operation before the onset of winter in Afghanistan.

The news of two US postal workers having died of anthrax and two more having been infected has also made headlines and Pravo carries a lengthy interview with a medical specialist explaining the various symptoms of pulmonary, skin and intestinal anthrax. Pulmonary anthrax is considered the most dangerous with a twelve hour incubation period and a high death rate.

Where the deadly anthrax spores came from is a highly disputed issue that remains at the forefront of attention, especially in view of the fact that the former UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler recently expressed the belief that they may have changed hands during an alleged meeting in Prague between Mohammad Atta, the man believed to have piloted one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre, and an Iraqi secret service agent.

In this connection Lidove noviny has slammed the Czech Intelligence Service for doing "too little too late" to ascertain the facts. After heatedly denying CIA information regarding the possibility that Atta had paid two visits to the Czech Republic this year, the Czech Intelligence Service has finally acknowledged that this was indeed the case, says Lidove noviny. Since intelligence sharing is one of the few things the Czechs have been asked to do to help the allies we ought at least to do it well, not drag our feet and delay investigations, the paper says.

Somewhat in the shade of international events is a new scandal in Cabinet. It has emerged that the agriculture minister Jan Fencl cooperated with the former communist secret service and he has come under a barrage of criticism from the opposition and the media who are demanding his resignation. Fencl, whose image is already tarnished by claims of unethical business transactions, has not denied that he had contacts with the former communist secret police but says that since he never told them anything that could be used against anyone else he sees no reason to step down.

The Prime Minister Milos Zeman has stood up for Mr. Fencl. He is quoted in Mlada fronta Dnes as saying that he was a victim of a well orchestrated media campaign led by "journalist whores". There can be no doubt at all that the Prime Minister is not on the best of terms with the media world at present and all the papers carry his announcement on Monday that the entire Cabinet had decided to file libel charges against the weekly Respekt for allegedly accusing all 17 members of Cabinet of corruption.

And finally, Mlada fronta Dnes carries a shocking report based on the results of a survey according to which one in three Czechs under age 30 sympathizes with skinheads. The survey was conducted by the agency Opinion Window, and the outcome is similar to that recently conducted by another agency AISA. According to the Opinion Window survey Czech youngsters approve of the skinheads' hard line call for a "return to law and order".

Police president Jiri Kolar tells the paper that while the police can fight the consequences of racism it cannot change people's attitudes. That he said was a task for parents and teachers. Mlada fronta Dnes suggests that the Czech Republic should follow the example of neighbouring Germany which has more experience and better results in combating racism.