Press Review

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The Supreme Court's decision to invalidate key articles of the newly approved electoral law dominates all front pages today. There are snapshots of President Havel, who had contested the law in Court, listening to the verdict being read out - and headlines reading "Havel beats Zeman and Klaus" and "The President wins crucial battle".

Mlada Fronta Dnes describes the verdict as "a valuable and much needed lesson for Czech politicians". The court has made it clear that election winners do not have the country on lease to do with it what they will - and that the Constitution must be respected by all, Jiri Leschtina says.

Meanwhile, Lidove Noviny's Petr Fischer says that although the electoral law was pushed through because of the power-sharing pact between the governing Social Democrats and their allies the Civic Democratic Party, the present development suits the Social Democrats very well indeed. The Prime Minister's party was not very enthusiastic about this version of the law from the start, but it was a means to an end - the price to be paid for remaining in the hot seat. Now the absence of an electoral law protects them from the possibility of early elections and from further political pressure applied by their opposition allies of the Civic Democratic Party, Fischer says.

The fate of the two Czech prisoners in Cuba remains a primary concern. The papers note that Cuba is still not talking to Prague through official channels, dealing exclusively with the Czech Communist Party. There are numerous reports on the physical and mental state of the two men after having spent close to a fortnight in what is allegedly the country's worst jail.

Adolf Riviera Cara, a former Cuban university professor now living in exile, has given Mlada Fronta Dnes details of what life in Villa Marista is like, saying that prisoners are under enormous psychological pressure. The way to survive, Prof. Cara says, is to divide one's day into sections and tasks. Physical exercise, memory training, meditation and prayer, or anything else to keep the mind occupied and alert.

In a related development Jan Zahradil of the Civic Democratic Party has indicated there might be some truth to the allegations that the two prisoners Pilip and Bubenik had gone to Cuba to assist Cuban dissidents on a mission organised by Freedom House - an American civil liberties organisation. I had such an offer from Freedom House last year and turned it down, Zahradil told Pravo.

Fear of CJD, the human form of mad cow disease is still getting plenty of attention. Mlada Fronta Dnes says that one in two Czechs now fear eating beef, despite the ban on EU imports, and 40% of Czechs have stopped buying it altogether. Families with children are particularly worried and beef has disappeared from many school canteens following pressure from parents.

And finally, Pravo notes that the newly approved legislation pertaining to driving tests is so bad it is putting people off taking driving classes. The written tests are so complex and contain numerous medically related questions that even a second year medical student would have trouble passing them, one instructor told Pravo. The authorities are reportedly biding their time to see whether the storm of discontent will not blow over. However testing people's reactions to the new conditions may be difficult since some driving schools say they have received only a single application since the beginning of the year.

Clearly future drivers are biding their time too, waiting for the authorities to come to their senses....