Press Review

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All the Czech newspapers today carry photographs of the Speaker of the Lower House and Chairman of the Civic Democratic Party, Vaclav Klaus, who threw a huge party on Monday, marking his 60th birthday. Mr. Klaus must be quite fond of blue, as he received several bouquets of blue roses and as one newspaper points out it was blue that was the dominant colour on his birthday cake.

Continuing with domestic issues, PRAVO reports that 44 year old Petr Chobot, who was responsible for serving an exotic tea concoction to 30 people during a meditation session, has been charged with possession of an addictive substance. All members of his meditation group ended up in hospital with symptoms of serious poisoning.

The investigator has proposed that Mr, Chobot be kept in custody in order to prevent him from influencing witnesses, avoiding prosecution and from a possible continuation of criminal activities. The spokeswoman for the Investigation Office, Sona Jindrakova told PRAVO that experiments on the exotic beverage, allegedly prepared by South American Indians, continue to be carried out and blood samples have been taken from all the victims to assess what quantities of the poisonous substance they had in their bodies. If found guilty, Mr. Chobot could spend up to 15 years in prison.

LIDOVE NOVINY features a photograph of the Prime Minister, Milos Zeman and the Transport Minister, Jaromir Schling, cutting a ribbon to mark the opening on Monday of another 16 kilometres of a new motorway, which - when completed - will link Prague with the German city of Dresden. Mr. Schling is quoted as saying that the new motorway will contribute to a higher road safety.

The completed motorway will stretch for 92 kilometres and both the Czech and German sides have agreed to finish the project by 2005. But there still remains a stumbling block that might jeopardize its construction. Environmental activists are protesting against a section of the motorway which is planned between the towns of Lovosice and Rehlovice because this area is part of a protected nature reserve. If construction kicks off, environmentalists say they are prepared to file lawsuits, writes LIDOVE NOVINY.

"Tolerate a pint before driving," reads a headline in today's ZEMSKE NOVINY. The paper informs that although Czechs still hold beer-drinking primacy in Europe, the consumption of this popular beverage is on its way down. The recent trend has brought agreement between all the biggest breweries in the country to lobby Czech politicians to try to force them change the current "zero tolerance" on drinking and driving.

The director of the Starobrno brewery, Frantisek Krakes told ZEMSKE NOVINY that good old beer drinkers have been perishing and the young generation prefers other kinds of alcoholic drinks. "We'd like to put forward the idea of more people drinking less beer. We think that a driver should be allowed to have a pint of beer before he steps into his car," Krakes is quoted as saying. But, the brewers have little hope that their demands will be heard, notes the paper.

And finally, MLADA FRONTA DNES carries the most recent opinion polls, which reveals that 44 percent of Czechs favour the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union, but almost three quarters of respondents would welcome a referendum on the issue. The problems is, though, that no law on the holding of referenda exists in this country. Deputy chairman of the Civic democrats, Petr Necas told the paper that such a law would first have to be approved, either on referenda generally or on a concrete referendum on the Czech Republic's entry into the EU. He added that such a significant move would require nation-wide consensus.