All of today's papers unanimously lead with yesterday's vote of the lower house approving a hike in the value-added tax from five to twenty-two percent as of January next year. MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that this move will increase monthly expenses for every Czech family by several hundred crowns. The rise in VAT will increase the prices of certain services, such as using both mobiles phones and land lines, or the services of lawyers, tax consultants and real-estate agencies.
PRAVO calls the price increase a shock for Czechs, who will have to pay seventeen percent more for goods such as paints, paper and cardboard. All 98 coalition MPs present raised their hands for the bill, outvoting the 96 deputies of the opposition Civic Democrats and the Communist party. PRAVO quotes Civic Democrat Vlastimil Tlusty as saying the move will have catastrophic consequences for the citizens.
Mr Tlusty disagrees with the ruling coalition's argument that the move was required by the European Union, writes the daily PRAVO. "To blame it on the European Union is a lie because the EU only regulates which goods and services are to be included in the standard and the lower VAT rates, and not how high the rates should be," Civic Democrat MP Vlastimil Tlusty said. PRAVO quotes Communist MP Pavel Kovacik as saying that the government has prepared a wonderful present for the people for the upcoming referendum on EU accession.
LIDOVE NOVINY writes that, on Thursday, Masaryk Square in Ostrava saw the largest demonstration since November 1989. Trade unionists from all over the Czech Republic gathered in the North Moravian capital to voice their disapproval of the current state of unemployment and the government-proposed reform of public finance. The demonstrators also demanded that the government release 16 billion crowns for a rise in salaries in the public sector in 2004, while the government is planning to give away only 5 billion.
Staying with LIDOVE NOVINY, and the paper reports that the opposition Civic Democrats are calling for another public vote to follow the June referendum on EU accession. The right-of-centre Civic Democrats want Czechs to vote again in May 2004 after the country joins the Union, on whether they agree with the European Union constitutional treaty that the EU Convention in Brussels is currently working on.
LIDOVE NOVINY writes that the party's shadow foreign minister and member of the EU Convention Jan Zahradil says that what Czechs are going to vote about in the June referendum is a minute change compared to what the new constitutional treaty would mean. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that the Civic Democrats only wanted to have an alibi - now they are openly supporting EU accession but want to preserve their Euro-scepticism at all costs.
MLADA FRONTA DNES reports on a case of teenage violence at a psychiatric hospital in the town of Sternberk, North Moravia. Three boys, aged between 12 and 15, attacked two nurses with an iron stick and threatened to kill them. They beat the nurses on the heads, then tied them up and stole their money, mobile phones, cigarettes and the keys to the hospital. The paper reports that police caught the underage attackers soon after the act, and comments that this has been yet another case of violence against health workers in this country in recent months. The latest was when a patient attacked his psychiatrist with a machete, causing him serious injuries to the head and arms.
And finally, LIDOVE NOVINY reports that a city court in Brno halted the criminal proceedings against former secret police agent Pavel Minarik, who had been accused of preparing a bomb attack on the Munich headquarters of Radio Free Europe in the mid-1970s. The judge told reporters that the reason for stopping the proceedings was that no one was able to assess how big the damage caused by the blast would have been. He added that there is no evidence specifying what kind of explosives and how much of it Minarik was going to use in the attack.