Press Review

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All the Czech newspapers today comment on changes to legislation passed by the lower house on Wednesday, which stipulate higher prison sentences for rapists. The younger the victim, the harsher the punishment, says LIDOVE NOVINY, summing up the changes. And there's another breakthrough, says the paper - for the first time sexual assault against men will be recognised as rape.

The paper writes that the lower house reacted quickly on last year's series of rapes and assaults in the Prague 4 district, and the changes to the legal code were accepted almost unanimously. Sex therapists and women's organisations are rejoicing over the higher sentences for rapists, and to a new approach to the problem - that not only classic sexual intercourse, but also forced anal or oral sex or even sexual caressing - will all be classified as sexual assault, writes LIDOVE NOVINY. The law still has to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Havel.

PRAVO today devotes a whole page to the problem of foot-and-mouth disease, which is spreading to the continent from the British Isles. "Can the Czech Republic defend itself against this disease?" reads the main headline. PRAVO quotes the spokesman of the State Veterinary Office, Josef Duben, as saying that his office is convinced the Czech Republic is well-protected against a potential outbreak of foot-and-mouth.

As of February 22nd all imports and transit of pigs, pasture animals and meat and dairy products from Britain have been banned, while the imports of farm-bred cattle has already been banned since 1994 because of mad cow disease. In addition to this, each imported animal must be accompanied by a certificate from the local British vet, that the foot- and-mouth disease has not appeared in that particular region for the past 12 months.

PRAVO writes that the last time the disease appeared in Czechoslovakia was back in 1975 in the Melnik region and in 1968 in the Vlasim region. But the paper says the outbreaks were not epidemics. The paper also quotes experts as saying that the situation now is more complicated because cattle are not vaccinated against the disease, although the vaccines do exist.

MLADA FRONTA DNES writes about Wednesday's ruling of a court in Prague, under which Prime Minister Milos Zeman must apologise to journalist Ivan Brezina, whom he had accused of corruption two years ago without providing evidence. Besides this, Mr. Zeman must pay all the costs of the trial and 300,000 crowns to the journalist as compensation.

The paper writes that the senior judge in the case, Dagmar Stamidisova, has handled the suit properly and fully, and quotes her as saying that Mr. Zeman is the prime minister, people take his words seriously, and so the damage he had done to Mr. Brezina was quite extensive.

The Prime Minister has now 15 days to lodge an appeal, writes MLADA FRONTA DNES, but on Wednesday he refused to comment on the court's ruling. Through his secretary, he told the paper that he had no time to make a statement, while Mr. Zeman's lawyer said he had to talk to his client first.

ZEMSKE NOVINY carries another story on the ongoing census, expressing people's fears that their data could be misused. The Czech Statistical Office has paid three experts to find out how the obtained data will be secured. But the experts say they were unable to find out anything. One of them was simply turned down by all of the three firms that will process the data, when he wanted to inspect their hardware and software. The census data might therefore be misused, he confirmed to ZEMSKE NOVINY.