Press Review

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The story of the day in many of Friday's Czech papers is without a doubt growing tensions over Iraq, and how it has divided Europe. PRAVO writes that on Tuesday Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Minister of Foreign Affairs Cyril Svoboda will arrive in Brussels to outline the Czech position on possible war on Iraq. Officially, however, no EU candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, will take part in negotiations to try and hammer out a common European stance, reconciling differences - that privilege has been reserved for member states alone.

The story of the day in many of Friday's Czech papers is without a doubt growing tensions over Iraq, and how it has divided Europe. PRAVO writes that on Tuesday Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Minister of Foreign Affairs Cyril Svoboda will arrive in Brussels to outline the Czech position on possible war on Iraq. Officially, however, no EU candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, will take part in negotiations to try and hammer out a common European stance, reconciling differences - that privilege has been reserved for member states alone.

PRAVO, meanwhile, also emphasises the fallout from a recent open letter signed by eight European leaders, including former Czech president Vaclav Havel, showing solidarity with the US. On Thursday European Commission head Romano Prodi met with the Czech ambassador to the EU Pavel Telicka, suggesting that Mr Havel's signature on the document was unfortunate, the paper writes.

Now, the other big story that continues to dominate this Friday, not surprisingly, is the Czech presidential elections. PRAVO features an interview with Freedom Union senator Robert Kolar, who admits he might give his vote to Civic Democrat Vaclav Klaus - but only under special circumstances.

Recalling the two previous failed attempts in which the coalition was unable to decide on a joint candidate, Mr Kolar explains that if the current potential candidate - academic Jan Sokol - failed to get substantial support in the first round, he'd probably give his ballot to the controversial Vaclav Klaus. The reason? Mr Kolar says a president should be elected February 28th, adding he can no longer play a passive role and just wait for another candidate to come along.

Neither, it seems, can the Czech Communist party play a passive role. MLADA FRONTA DNES indicates that while party officials are refusing to comment for now, the party is trying to gain as much political credibility from the current elections stalemate as possible. The daily quotes Communist party deputy Stanislav Balin as saying his party is 'eminently interested' in seeing the last stigmas concerning his party fall away.

When asked what his party hoped to gain in the current situation, with the Communists holding a trump card of 41 seats in the Lower House, Mr Balin pointed out the Communists did not have fair representation in certain parliamentary organisations, boards, as well as town-level committees. The indication there being that the communists are willing to throw support behind one of the presidential candidates - in this case Vaclav Klaus - if the 'price is right'. Voicing their demands on Thursday they said support for Mr Klaus would require the Civic Democrats to scratch an internal decree forbidding the party from working with the Communists at the regional level.

Turning to matters of sport, the financial daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY writes that the number of football fans buying tickets for premier league games at Czech stadiums is on the decline. The reasons are several, writes the daily, some see the problem with the overall decline in the quality of football being played at professional level. Another is the relatively high cost of tickets. A third is relatively unattractive-looking stadiums themselves. Says the daily, some stadiums haven't been improved for fifteen years. Still, most experts agree, there are not enough stars playing in the Czech league to go around. And as everybody knows, stars draw the crowds.

And, finally for this Friday: sport left some 130 skiers in the cold yesterday, when a chair-lift broke down at a ski hill in Spindleruv Mlyn in north Bohemia. LIDOVE NOVINY features a photo on its cover of one skier warming up after being helped down after several hours outside. Rescue crews helped using ladders, and even a helicopter was engaged. In the end no one was hurt, and the skiers received a free day pass for their troubles.