Leading government officials have met with Czech farmers to try to convince them of the long-term benefits of joining the European Union. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minster Cyril Svoboda addressed a gathering of over 1,000 farmers in south Bohemia on Monday in an effort to allay concerns about their future once the country joins the European Union. The Czech Republic is still negotiating the terms of the agriculture chapter of the accession agreement and Prime Minister Spidla promised the gathering that Czech farmers would get the best possible deal. Czech farmers say that if they feel that their livelihood would be threatened by EU accession they would try to convince people in their vicinity to vote against EU membership in the referendum next spring.
The U.S. President, George W. Bush, is expected to arrive in Prague on November 20th. This will be one day earlier than originally planned as Mr Bush wants to link the trip to Prague for the NATO summit with an official visit to the Czech Republic to meet with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Mr Bush will arrive with his wife Laura, and a delegation, which is to include U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld. Leading representatives from 19 NATO member states, about 2,000 delegates and some 3,000 journalists are expected to meet in Prague's Congress Centre for the NATO summit that will be held on November 21st to 22nd.
The agriculture commissioner for the EU Franz Fischler has urged Czech farmers to see the benefits of the Czech Republic joining the European Union. On Friday he stated that Czech farmers would benefit from EU enlargement in the long run, while defended the EU. Mr Fischler did acknowledge the hard work that Czech farmers have undertaken in restructuring the agriculture industry since the fall of communism, and assured Czech farmers the agriculture sector would earn more money after enlargement. But, farm leaders are saying that unless the EU sets equal subsidy levels for new and current member states, they will ask Czech farmers to vote against EU accession in a referendum next spring.
Czech farmers staged a protest outside a Prague hotel on Thursday, where the agriculture ministers of ten EU candidate countries were meeting the EU commissioner for agriculture Franz Fischler. Some two hundred protestors were reported at the scene, some from neighbouring Slovakia. The farmers met Mr Fischler as well as the Czech Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas. Mr Fischler reiterated that he was bound by decisions agreed upon by the original 15 EU states. Czech farmers are worried that the European Commission's proposals for EU entry, including far lower subsidies for farming than in the original EU countries, would seriously hurt the agriculture sector.
The lower house of the Czech parliament has approved a law allowing US warplanes to help guard the skies over the country during the NATO summit this month. The US government has agreed to deploy its fighters to ensure the security of the summit in Prague, which will be attended by US President George W. Bush and dozens of other heads of states. The bill, which has yet to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, paves the way for up to 15 fighter jets to operate at any given moment in Czech airspace between November 15th and 30th. As many as 250 US soldiers will be allowed onto Czech territory for the deployment. The Prague summit will be NATO's first full meeting since the September 11th attacks on the United States. The US Air Force will join the biggest security operation conducted on Czech soil. Some 12,000 police and army personnel are preparing for the arrival of leaders from more than 40 countries.
The Czech government has proposed June 15th and 16th , 2003, as the dates for a referendum that will decide the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union; the final decision on the day of voting now lies with President Vaclav Havel. The Czechs are one of ten candidate nations in final talks to join the EU in the first half of 2004. Entering the 15-nation bloc has been a top priority for many post-Communist countries like the Czech Republic; however, difficult negotiations concerning the conditions of entry, especially limitations of labour movement and farm subsidies, have lowered EU support among many citizens. The region's politicians have agreed to hold referenda in succession beginning with Hungary, where support is highest, in the hope that a positive results will influence anti-EU voters in other candidate countries, to reconsider their choice.
The Chamber of Deputies defence committee has recommended that the lower house pass a government-sponsored bill allowing the U.S. Air Force to help guard Czech airspace during the NATO summit in Prague this November 21-22. Of all the parties only the Communists did not support the bill at the committee level. The Lower House is now set to debate the bill either this Thursday or Friday. In related news Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the defence committee Wednesday that the USA would deploy up to fifteen fighter jets as part of the operation to protect Czech airspace, with F- 15 and F-16s taking off from bases in the Czech Republic, Britain, Germany and Italy. A total of 250 U.S. soldiers will serve in the operation and who will legally not be accountable for damages in the event of an accident or attack. Any strike would first have to be approved by the Czech defence minister or a chosen deputy.
Black-clad demonstrators battled Czech police with rocks and bottles on Wednesday as part of a staged riot held near the town of Milovice, some fifty kilometers from Prague. The mock riot was staged to help Czech forces gear up for the NATO summit to be held in Prague later this month, the Czech Republic's largest security operation ever. An estimated 12,000 police and soldiers are preparing for the arrival of more than 40 leaders for the key meeting in the third week of November. Recalling the violent clashes that erupted in the czech capital two years ago at the meeting of the International Monetary Fund, Czech police chief Jiri Kolar said on Wednesday that police would be more pro-active this time around if anti-globalisation protesters tried to force their way into Prague's Congress Centre, the key locoation for summit talks.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has indicated that the Czech government may refuse Belarussian President Alexandr Lukashenko entry to the Czech Republic; the leader of the former-Soviet country applied for a visa in order to be able to attend November's NATO summit in Prague. In an interview with Czech Radio on Wednesday Foreign Minister Svoboda admitted that the government was hesitant over issuing an entry visa to Mr Lukashenko, on the grounds that his regime suppressed human rights; he added that cabinet ministers were also trying to gather information on the case of Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, before reaching a decision - the opposition leader was detained in Minsk on Tuesday on possible charges of treason.
The Czech border authorities have warned visitors to the Czech Republic that after November 15th border security will be very tight in connection with the upcoming NATO summit. People entering the country by car can expect a thorough check up of their documents, luggage and vehicle and, consequently a much longer wait at the border. During the summit itself, on November 21st and 22nd, some parts of Prague will be closed off to the public and there may be changes in public transport.
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