Press Review

Lidove noviny leads today with news that the country's ombudsman Otakar Motejl has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on whether regulated rent is unconstitutional. The Czech authorities determine annual rent increases on both state-owned flats and some recently privatised property, but Ombudsman Motejl believes they might be doing so unlawfully. Around four hundred landlords have filed complaints with Mr Motejl's office, claiming Finance Ministry regulated rent directives violate the Constitution.

Six months since September 11th and the ensuing anthrax scare, says Pravo, and the Czech government is facing the uncomfortable truth that it doesn't have enough money to build a comprehensive system of defence against biological attack. The government needs around 300 million crowns - which is about eight million U.S. dollars - to build the system, but it simply doesn't have the cash, says the paper.

Some officials are keen to downplay the problem, says Pravo. The deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, points out that building the system is a long-term project which will take several years to finish. But despite recent government assurances that the country is prepared for a possible attack, only the army has sufficient supplies of antidotes and disinfectant materials. Ambitious plans to build special hospital facilities to treat victims of biological warfare have as yet come to nothing, says Pravo.

Mlada fronta Dnes claims that more and more foreigners are working illegally in the Czech capital, in a trade controlled by the mafia. Most are from the former Soviet Union, says the paper, and most are Ukrainian labourers working in the construction industry, which depends heavily on cheap labour. The trade has been going on for years, but the paper reports that foreigners are also working illegally in fast food outlets and other businesses.

The authorities say the problem is extremely hard to tackle. "Let's say a couple of policemen go up to a fast food stand and find a foreigner working there," says one official. "He tells them he's just looking after it for a friend for a few minutes, and then it's hard to prove anything." But Mlada fronta Dnes says it's not just the foreigners themselves who are to blame - Czechs who employ foreigners without a work permit can be fined up to 250,000 crowns.

"Olah King Rules From Hypermarket" reads a headline further on in the paper, referring to Jan Lipa, king of the Olah Romanies, one of the main "tribes" or extended families in Roma society. The king of the Olah enjoys considerable powers: his approval is required for weddings and he can expel members from the community if they commit serious transgressions of the Olah code of honour.

But the king, says the paper, rules from a pizza restaurant in an Ostrava hypermarket, and the majestic view from his throne takes in the escalator and the exits leading to the car park. Every day, says Mlada fronta Dnes, he holds court at his table in the pizzeria, surrounded by his cabinet. "He sits here for six hours every day, sometimes longer. We come and go, but he never leaves," says Olah "Justice Minister" Josef Stojka. But the restaurant's owners are far from happy - "they're noisy, they don't order anything, and they shout at the staff" says one employee.