Press Review

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The United States' ground operation in Afghanistan is the top story in most of the papers, and many also look at the latest bizarre development in the Czech Republic, where an anti-tank missile was found on Friday in a field close to Prague airport. In connection with the story several papers carry pictures of Czech paratroopers who have now begun guarding the airport and its environs. Lidove noviny quips that the paras have no easy task doing their job, because at every step they are followed by hoards of journalists.

None of the papers dare speculate about who might have been responsible for leaving such an unnerving piece of military hardware lying around. There is no doubt that the missile would have been powerful enough to shoot down a plane as it approached or left the runway. Given the hysteria seen at some Western European airports over the weekend, Lidove noviny asks passengers at Prague's airport how they feel about the incident. Surprisingly most seem pretty blasé about it all. "I've been taking risks all my life," says one passenger from Slovakia, "and I don't plan to stop now." "I didn't know anything about it," adds a tourist from Holland, "but it doesn't really worry me."

When Bill Clinton came to Prague's high-profile Forum 2000 conference last week, the one thing that all the journalists wanted to know was what the former president felt about developments since September 11th. One person he failed to impress was Martin Weiss, writing in today's Mlada fronta Dnes. Mr Clinton's speech may have seemed honest in acknowledging that - yes - the United States also bears its share of responsibility for the deeply divided world we live in today, but he adds that Mr Clinton's words concealed a huge dose of hypocrisy about his own term as president. Just look at all the things the Clinton administration failed to do, Martin Weiss writes. It ran down the CIA to such an extent that it appears there was not a single agent left in Afghanistan. It rejected an offer by Sudan in 1996 for Osama bin Laden to be extradited to the United States, and the United States left Afghanistan entirely to its own sorry fate throughout the 1990s. The article is just as critical of the Forum 2000 conference as a whole. A huge number of famous figures - politicians, former politicians, gurus, even super-models - attended the event. The list of names in itself aroused high expectations, with speculation about what important conclusions would emerge from the discussion, but the reality was very different. Anyone expecting such a glitzy media event to have any real content, should have known better from the start, Martin Weiss concludes.

Over now to some more standard domestic fare in today's Lidove noviny. In no uncertain terms Jaroslav Plesl writes that the Agriculture Minister, Jan Fencl, should be sacked. This is because of an alleged conflict of interests. Mr Fencl has bought some land just outside the town of Hodonin. He says that he wants to grow crops there, which seems an admirable thing to do given that farming is meant to be the very nature of his business. The trouble is that his fields just happen to be precisely where the government plans to build the town's by-pass. Land on the route will be compulsorily purchased at very generous prices. Mr Fencl will enjoy a very rich harvest, concludes Jaroslav Plesl, adding that such politicians are bad for democracy. They keep to the word of the law, but completely ignore its spirit, making the voter feel powerless and cynical.

And finally to Prazske Slovo with some worrying news about the state of the Czech Republic's concrete, prefabricated blocks of flats, put up on the cheap by the communist regime and home to a third of the country's population. A year ago the government launched a programme for these over-scaled tower-blocks to be renovated, but so far the scheme is showing no sign of working. In the whole country there have been fewer than thirty applications to take part in the programme, amid complaints of excessive bureaucracy and insufficient finance, writes Prazske Slovo in a special full-page article. To add to the gloomy picture, a doctor specializing in allergies warns of the dangers of neglecting the ventilation systems in these blocks. They encourage the growth of microorganisms, and it is hardly surprising that the number of people suffering from allergies is on the rise. The one hope lies in the prospect that the new State Housing Fund will manage to pull itself out of its current deep administrative problems, and put real financial weight behind the programme, writes Prazske Slovo.