Press Review

Lots of interesting stories jostle for space on the front pages of Friday's papers - the unexpected spy war between the United States and Russia and its possible implications for global security, continued fighting in Macedonia, where two ethnic Albanians were shot dead by soldiers in front of camera crews on Thursday, and a watery grave for the Russian space station Mir, which commentators describe as "the end of an era".

However, important as these developments are on the world scale, they have done little to detract attention from the number one domestic story - the unexpected and highly encouraging growth of GDP. All the papers carry snapshots of smiling cabinet ministers, who refused to let journalists dampen their enthusiasm with awkward questions regarding the stability of projected GDP growth.

"The recession's over" says the left-of-centre PRAVO, noting that credit should be given where credit's due. The liberal LIDOVE NOVINY is more sceptical, noting that trade figures are not encouraging and that people are still cautious about spending their hard-earned cash.

There's no scepticism over at MLADA FRONTA DNES though - the paper says that foreign investment, new technology and money invested in expanding businesses will create new jobs and higher wages, giving Czechs the confidence they need to spend. It's only a question of time and when that happens the Social Democrats will really be able to boast about having jumpstarted the economy and secured stable growth, the paper says.

Foreigners living in the Czech Republic are having to stand in line again, says LIDOVE NOVINY, at least those who want to be able to use their drivers license on Czech territory. A new law requiring foreigners to obtain Czech or international drivers licenses is to come into effect on April 1st - and there's been a mad rush to get hold of them.

"It's 6.30 am and outside the Prague office that issues driving licenses, there's already a 300- metre queue of people all stamping their feet against the cold," says LIDOVE NOVINY. The queue is a microcosm of the foreign community: businessmen, entrepreneurs, manual workers and students. "Those who can afford it hand over 500 crowns for a place at the front of the queue, others send one of their subordinates to face the ordeal, or pay one of the homeless people hanging round to stand in line for them. The wait is long and tempers are short..."

For how much longer will we submit foreigners to such indignities? asks the paper. Transport Minister Jaromir Schling appears unfazed by the situation. "They should have applied for new licenses well in advance," he says of those poor souls waiting in line. However the paper's Martin Zverina points out that the licenses weren't available before the end of February, which doesn't give foreigners much time to take care of the matter.

Zverina, who has a scathing front page column in LIDOVE NOVINY, calls it "an April fools' joke". "Who cares that these foreigners will have little good to say about us when they return home. They've been here long enough to be used to our red tape," Zverina notes. "The important thing is for our bureaucrats to receive a nice fat bonus for successfully dealing with a calamity of their own making".

And finally, MLADA FRONTA DNES has published an open letter from the director of the Children in Need Fund, Marie Vodickova. Mrs Vodickova is horrified by the fact that Parliament is well on the way to approving a law which would allow children in orphanages and borstals to be kept in isolation for up to 36 hours.

While in the past this form of "therapy" was only used at and borstals, according to the proposed law it could in future be applied to children over the age of three, which, Mrs Vodickova says, amounts to torture. It is hard to find worse "therapy" for a child than isolation, Vodickova says, slamming the respective MPs for methods dating back to the 1950s. Even with older children it has been proved that most suicide attempts happen during or immediately after enforced isolation, she says.

The director of the Children in Need Fund notes that the methods used with problem children in this country need a thorough overhaul. While isolation is regarded as a form of therapy, punishment is little more than psychological blackmail, she says. The most frequent punishment meted out is a ban on visits from parents and friends or weekend outings with them.