Press Review

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Believe it or not, it isn't all sport in the newspapers this Friday, the opening day of the XIX Winter Olympic Games - but it's close: two national Czech papers Lidove noviny and Mlada fronta Dnes carry special sections on the games with all the last-minute analysis for the most die-hard of fans, who will no doubt spend the next fortnight glued to their TV sets... Good luck to the athletes though, who may end up better rested than many Olympic viewers...

But sport aside it's time to look at an important political development in the Czech Republic yesterday: the surprise passing of a referendum bill in the Lower House. Lidove noviny writes that should the bill be ratified by the senate, it will open the door for ordinary Czechs to decide their future within the European Union, and possibly such questions as the future of the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant, or even the legalisation of marijuana. The daily points out that referendums can not be held on such questions as whether or not citizens should pay their taxes...

Dashing the hopes of some, no doubt.... But all jesting aside, it is not difficult to imagine the importance of a referendum bill for the Czech Republic: Lidove noviny describes it as nothing less than "a revolution", and features an outline of fourteen earlier attempts to pass similar referendum legislation over the last eight years. All previous proposals were blocked.

Well, at least we don't need a referendum to turn to Friday's Pravo and find it's trouble again for the Temelin nuclear power plant. The paper writes that the plant's first reactor was shut down with lightning speed on Thursday, after alarms systems in a non-nuclear section went on alert during routine testing. There was never any danger to the reactor, the paper writes, but the reactor's turbine was shut-down, with electric output reduced to a minimum. Meanwhile, the plant's reactor number two waits for the green light to begin testing.

Pravo adds that the plant's most recent technical problems provoked yet another reaction from Austria's far-right Freedom Party, which continues to threaten an Austrian veto on the Czech Republic's accession to the EU, unless the plant is shut down.

And in more politics what about the remnants of the now-defunct Four-Party Coalition, which has transformed itself into the two-member Christian Democrats and Freedom Union-DEU: Pravo writes that Freedom Union leader Hana Marvanova has been lobbying for support of independent candidates to fill the gap on election ballots left by last week's parting of the Civic Democratic Alliance.

But finding replacements may not be so easy. The paper says that the Christian Democrats have reservations over most of the names Miss Marvanova has put forward, which include Alena Mullerova and Tana Fischerova from the Czech TV public initiative, clergyman Svatopluk Karasek and former assistant to President Vaclav Havel, Oldrich Cerny.

Miss Marvanova's proposal was derided by Christian Democrat Miroslav Kalousek, who said it was "absurd to think that such a nebulous group would be capable of creating a new party alongside the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-DEU", so obviously no love lost there. Nevertheless, Christian Democrat head Cyril Svoboda was a bit more diplomatic: he argued that candidates should not be "exported as stars" from Prague to represent other regions of the Czech Republic, the paper writes. It adds that Mr Svoboda refused to comment on individual names for the meantime.

And finally, if you have been following the lawsuit against TV NOVA magnate Vladimir Zelezny Friday's Mlada fronta Dnes offers an extensive interview with Ales Rozehnal, the lawyer who is accused along with Mr Zelezny of attempting to cheat a creditor. Mr Rozehnal spent almost three months remanded in custody after a court ruled he might influence witnesses or even flee the country. He has recently been released as he awaits trial. The interview offers Mr Rozehnal's views on his being held in prison, the prison experience and his views on Mr Zelezny's business moves.

Mlada fronta Dnes even suggests that Mr Rozehnal made similar comments about Mr Zelezny as the lawyer in Milos Forman's film did about Larry Flynt - "He's an excellent client - lots of money, and plenty of problems", but that is a comment Mr Rozehnal denied.