Press Review

More than ever today's front pages reflect the gravity of the international situation. All the papers feature the Czech Prime Minister's live address to the nation on Tuesday night when he pledged that Czechs would support the fight against terrorism not just with words but with deeds.

"We are at war with terrorism", " We are ready to join the fight" and "We are standing by the United States" read some of the bold-type headlines on today's front pages. Commentators have welcomed the Prime Minister's words, describing his address to the nation as powerful, impressive and down to earth.

Pravo's Jiri Hanak notes that the Prime Minister's arguments regarding why the Czech government was offering Czechs troops in the war against terrorism were sound and persuasive. This country knows the danger of bowing to terrorists and oppressors all too well and it was good to hear that the present government is not going to buckle at the knees in the face of danger, says Hanak.

There is more praise for the Prime Minister from Martin Komarek in Mlada fronta Dnes. "It was a good speech" he says. "In fact it was the best speech the Prime Minister ever made". "The Czech Republic is at war but it is on the right side of the barricade and even if it means provoking possible terrorist attacks the decision to put everything on the line was the right thing to do."

As the world braces for the conflict ahead, Czechs are increasingly worried about the possibility of terrorist attacks or even a global conflict. The papers report that people are searching the market for available gas masks and calling their local authorities about shelters. Army shops reportedly have few gas masks on stock and deliveries from Finland and Italy get sold out within hours.

Military experts are trying to stem the panic buying, pointing out that many people are throwing away their money on masks that are old and practically worthless. Gas mask producers are increasing production but in the meantime salesmen are riding the crest of this panic wave selling masks at 4,000 crowns apiece and even something called "dust-masks" at 250 crowns which are no use at all.

The government is supposed to provide children and pensioners with masks but officials admit they were unprepared for this crisis and 80% of the masks available are not functional.

The war against terrorism has inevitably put other developments very much in the shade. The papers pay only marginal attention to the news that the Czech crown is at its strongest ever against the Euro or that Czech negotiators in Brussels have won what they describe as important concessions from the EU with respect to the controversial chapter on the movement of labor in talks on joining the Union.

Lidove noviny has taken a fairly reserved stand to the latter story. The fact that the Czech Republic clinched a better deal with the EU than the other frontrunners will provide a good psychological boost if little else, the paper says.