Press Review

The Czech paper's headlines are by no means unanimous this Friday, although there is one topic all the papers can agree on: the start of the final round of the ice hockey tournament at the Olympic games, where the Czech team will be defending its gold victory from Nagano '98.

Team captain Jaromir Jagr is photographed on more than one front page, including Lidove noviny. Let's hope the Czech captain will have every reason to smile as the Czech Republic take on Germany Friday evening.

Another item making Czech news is Thursday's acceptance of a government bill which will regulate a loan for the Czech Air Force to buy 24 Gripen fighter jets. It is estimated that the investment will cost a whopping sum of 76.9 billion crowns, which has raised not a little controversy. In Friday's Mlada fronta Dnes commentator Martin Komarek writes that the investment is largely a pre-election ploy, concerned less with the defence of the country than with gaining power and influence.

In Mr Komarek's view, the problem of ordering the jet fighters is not only with the cost, but what he says were the hazy circumstances surrounding the choice of the Swedish/British consortium of SAAB and BAE Systems to head the project in the first place, which saw other companies withdraw their bids after it became clear SAAB was favoured. He also writes the consortium's promise of drawing foreign investment to the Czech Republic are over-rated, and ends his article questioning the over-all common sense behind such an expensive project at a time when the government is strapped for funds.

So, clearly no supporter of fighter jets there, along with members of the right-of-centre opposition parties who tried, but failed, to have the bill defeated in parliament. The bill still faces refinements by the government and will face a second reading.

And so we turn to Pravo now and one of its main stories which focuses on Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart's attempts to prevent a controversial new bylaw which will allow recreational boats and water scooters to be used in the areas around the Orlik and Slapy dams on Vltava river as of April 1st. The bylaw has many locals, as well as ecologists, in an uproar...

Pravo notes that Mr Kuzvart was not really successful in his bid to block the bylaw. He was only able to successfully pressure for tightened guidelines, rather than have the bylaw proposal scrapped.

But locals fear that it will be difficult to monitor even newly added restrictions since, for example, police lack equipment to measure boat speed limits. And local mayors continue to fear that recreational visitors will disrupt the privacy of nearby communities.

In any case, it is now unclear whether the new bylaw will come into effect by the proposed date. A government legislative committee is still looking into the matter, and it is likely the proposal will still undergo some changes. But Pravo says that Transport Minister Jaroslav Schling insists there will be no problems, and that motor boats, while allowed, will be properly regulated.

And finally, Pravo features yet another interesting item this Friday: wild and crazy Czechs running naked in the street. Love bunnies around the world celebrated yesterday's Valentine's Day and the Czech Republic was no exception.

And for a few in the southern Bohemian town of Pilsen, that meant the running of a skinny sprint.

Five gentlemen and three ladies took part in the run, and remember we're talking about February here... Pravo writes that contestants' sensitive areas were covered at the last minute, though barely, by advertisement stickers. Judging from the photo in the daily, there was no shortage of viewers, and the runners had a good time as well.