Press Review

The main international issues taken up by Czech dailies today include the continuing stalemate over America's presidential elections--Bush or Gore? asks MLADA FRONTA DNES--and of course the aftermath of the mountain train fire in the Austrian Alps in which more than 160 people were killed on Saturday, including a 20-year-old Czech skiing instructor working with a group of Japanese tourists.

As regards the Austrian drama, ZEMSKE NOVINY has unofficially identified the Czech victim as the country's champion in acrobatic skiing. The paper quotes Austrian sources as saying the young woman might not be the only Czech killed in the blazing inferno. Reportedly, several empty cars with Czech plates have been sitting in a Kaprun car park since Saturday. Austria, the paper writes, became a favourite winter holiday destination for Czechs after the fall of the Iron Curtain 11 years ago.

On the home front, all papers note the shattering defeat suffered by the ruling Social Democrats in last Sunday's Senate by-elections and elections to new regional parliaments. Most commentators believe that the high electoral gains of the little-reformed Communist Party can be put down to the rigid discipline of its voters.

CESKE SLOVO says it's quite alarming to see how few registered voters exercised their right to elect their representatives. The paper warns that indifference towards politics has become widespread among the general public. Czechs are becoming increasingly sceptical about the value of the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, whose role politicians have failed to explain clearly. And as far as the new regional assemblies are concerned, most people don't see how these institutions could help make their lives easier.

LIDOVE NOVINY believes that the explanation is simple, although not very flattering for the political elite: few people know what these two institutions are good for. In four years of lacklustre existence, the Senate hasn't succeeded in convincing Czechs that it has a right to exist.

And according to HOSPODARSKE NOVINY, Sunday's elections basically produced two outcomes. One is that voters couldn't care less, and the other, that the Social Democrats are the losers. Although their power-sharing Civic Democrat partners have clinched seats in 13 regional parliaments, their supremacy is not strong enough in any of these constituencies to allow them to form a overall majority in the new regional assemblies and they will have to enter into various coalitions, the paper notes.

And finally, away from politics, ZEMSKE NOVINY says the Mirov maximum-security prison in the Moravian town of Sumperk, from where a dangerous contract killer staged a daring escape last month, is fast becoming a tourist attraction. Jiri Kajinek, who was serving a life sentence for two murders and an attempted third killing, is still at large and police have no clue as to his current whereabouts. "Have you seen Kajinek?" and "So, where's that famous Alcatraz?" are two of the most frequently asked questions in town.

The paper says tourists are stunned to find out that the towering medieval fortress, which is allegedly escape-proof, is in fact in the middle of a quiet residential area. Kajineks-on-toast are on offer in the local pub, whose owner began selling them on October 30, one day after the jailbreak that made Sumperk famous, the paper writes. It's basically a fried egg on toast garnished with hot spicy pickles and onion rings that goes down well with beer.