Press Review

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Well the papers are full of barely disguised glee this morning over the Czechs' 11:0 trouncing of Italy at the world ice- hockey championships, and there are predictions of more glory to come for the world champions if they can stay on form. Also on the front pages today are pictures of smiling space tourist Dennis Tito, who returned to Planet Earth on Sunday after eight days floating around the universe.

But there's sad news as well - three papers feature front page photos of an up-ended Trabant in the village of Ostrovce. The car's 75-year-old female owner died after being pinned against her fence by the Trabant, which had been lifted up on a wave of water during the flash floods and freak hailstones that hit East Bohemia on Friday night.

PRAVO leads with claims that Czech schools are suffering from a massive shortage of qualified teachers - "Children Frequently Taught By Amateurs" is their top story today. Several schools look more like old people's homes, says the paper, while others look like children being taught by children.

In the Most region of North Bohemia, for example, a quarter of lower primary school teachers are unqualified, says PRAVO, while in upper primary schools the figure is close to one third. And the Education Ministry has no idea how to improve the situation. "There's been a significant fall in the number of qualified teachers in the last few years, and it's beginning to show in the quality of teaching," says Most Schools Inspector Marie Kalabova.

Low salaries are the culprit, says PRAVO. "Headteachers are finding themselves forced to hire kids fresh out of secondary school as teachers," says another education official from the West Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary. But Education Minister Eduard Zeman says there are too many teachers in the country as it as - money which should be going towards pay rises is being divided up instead to pay the extra teachers.

MLADA FRONTA DNES carries extensive coverage of the celebrations surrounding the 56th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of Czechoslovakia. But many veterans, says the paper, have mixed feelings when the beginning of May rolls around. Many Czechoslovak veterans suffered terrible persecution at the hands of the Communist regime, for the simple crime of fighting alongside the Allies. Each May, they have to decide whether to attend ceremonies of remembrance, where they often find themselves sitting next to former senior Communist officials.

"I always have to think long and hard whether I'm even going to attend the May meetings," says Ostrava General Josef Rehulka, who fought with the British in Tobruk as well as the Red Army at Dukla, but who was imprisoned by the Communist Party after the war. "When I think that I might have to sit down at the same table as them, often I decide to stay at home," he says.

Some veterans have extraordinary tales to tell, says MLADA FRONTA DNES. Pilot Jan Setvak started the war fighting for the newly-independent Nazi puppet state of Slovakia, and flew many sorties in German colours over Central Asia. But in 1944 he decided to cross over to the other side, landing on Soviet territory. "I nearly never made it down - the Russians were shooting down German planes on sight," says Setvak. And when he did, he was confronted by a Red Army commissar called Leonid Brezhnev.

"Brezhnev could have lifted his little finger and had me shot, as happened in many cases. But miraculously he believed my story and I ended up flying for a Czechoslovak unit of the Red Army," Setvak tells MLADA FRONTA DNES. "Who would have thought that the same guy would send Russian tanks into Czechoslovakia in 1968?" he adds. Who indeed.

And finally, LIDOVE NOVINY's top story today is about a group of MPs calling for the legalisation of marihuana. A bill will be proposed next week by Civic Democrat MP Frantisek Pejril, and will call for marihuana to be treated like alcohol or nicotine. Mr Pejril says the Czech Republic could follow in the footsteps of the Netherlands, where marihuana is freely available in so-called 'coffee shops.' He has the support of several MPs, and not only from his own party. Tune in next week to see how the vote goes.