The Czech Republic has acknowledged that its possible accession to the European Union, together with that of nine other candidate countries, could slip back by several months; the announcement coming in response to a statement made in Brussels on Tuesday, in which Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said that a small delay from the January 1, 2004 date would give parliaments in the 15 current member states more time to study and ratify the accession treaty. Responding to the comment Czech Deputy Foreign Minister and chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka told reporters on Wednesday that the Czech Republic would continue to seek the earliest date possible, adding that an eventual delay should not create new obstacles. The Czech Republic is one of the 10 mostly ex-Communist countries from central and eastern Europe hoping to finish membership talks by the end of the year, to join the EU as early as January 1, 2004.
Belarussian President Alexandr Lukashenko has threatened that unless the Czech Republic grants him an entry visa, enabling him to take part in the NATO summit to be held in Prague next week, Belarus will cease guarding its borders, allowing thousands of illegal migrants into western Europe; the move would also open the way for drug smuggling, Mr Lukashenko warned. So far, there has been no Czech response. The Czech Foreign Ministry has not yet decided whether to grant the Belarussian president an entry visa, along with members of a Belarussian delegation that also applied last month; each case is decided individually and a decision on Lukashenko might not come until early next week. NATO officials have already made clear the Belarussian president is not welcome at the NATO summit because of both his autocratic style and his opposition to NATO in the past.
It has been announced that Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and President Vaclav Havel will meet with US President George W. Bush one day before next week's NATO summit gets underway in Prague. The summit, which begins November 21st will see dozens of government and military leaders discussing plans for a multinational expansion of the western alliance, and will be the first NATO summit ever held in a former communist country. The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was appointed prime minister in June; while Vaclav Havel, a former dissident, became president after the fall of communism in 1989.
Thirty-two people have been deported from the Czech Republic and five have had their residence status terminated after a security dragnet launched by police on Tuesday revealed they were in the country illegally, either with expired visas or without visas at all. Overall police screened two hundred and fifty-five foreigners in Prague and central Bohemia. The controls come in connection with next week's NATO summit in Prague; besides tighter security within the country, police have tightened controls on the border. Police spokeswoman Klara Krejci said on Monday that the police have already denied entry to several people on the Slovak and German border, but said detailed information including the precise number of those turned away, or their citizenship, would not be released.
The European Commission has called for 728 million euros in aid to help repair flood damage in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and France. Officials said agreement on the package by EU governments and the European Parliament could come as early as next week, with the funds being made available by the end of the year. The newly-created one billion euro European Union Solidarity Fund will provide 444 million euros in EU help for Germany, 134 million euros for Austria, 129 million euros for the Czech Republic and 21 million euros for France. The packages will be used to restore vital equipment and infrastructure destroyed by floods that devastated many parts of Europe in August this year.
The Czech Senate's foreign, defence and security committee has unanimously recommended the Upper House approve a government bill enabling US military planes to protect Czech airspace during the NATO summit in Prague on November 21st and 22nd - senators will vote on the bill on Thursday. Under the bill American F-15 and F-16 fighter jets will begin guarding Czech airspace as of November 19th, deputy defence minister Stefan Fuele told senators Wednesday. The US will also provide refuelling aircraft and an AWACS radar plane, while Czechs will provide their own MiG-21 fighters and other combat planes and helicopters. Mr Fuele added that major flights of civilian aircraft over the Czech Republic would not be curbed during the summit, but said armed guards would be stationed aboard. Small aircraft, on the other hand, shall be banned from Czech airspace during the summit.
An overwhelming majority of Prague citizens fear the protest demonstrations that are expected to take place during the NATO summit on November 21st and 22nd. Results of a public opinion poll released by the Prague School of International and Public Relations on Tuesday showed that some 80 percent of Prague citizens fear street rioting and 53 percent fear a possible terrorist attack. On the other hand, 58 percent also agreed to the summit being held in Prague. Opinion polls conducted over recent months have shown that fears of demonstrations and terrorist attacks in the Czech capital are on the rise as the NATO summit draws near.
The frontrunner candidates for EU membership, including the Czech Republic, will most probably join the European Union a few months later than expected. Instead of on January 1st 2004, the countries will most likely become EU members in the spring of 2004. Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said that the exact date will depend on the time it will take to ratify the accession treaty. Since the treaty is expected to be several thousand pages long, current member states will not be pressured into speeding up their ratification. Mr Verheugen stressed, however, that the expansion process will have to be complete before the elections to the European Parliament in July 2004.
The first demonstration in the country against the NATO summit has been scheduled for this Saturday in the Moravian capital of Brno. Although only some 50 activists are expected to take part in the protest, Brno police have said that they are prepared to do what will be necessary to ensure order. The protest demonstration was called by the Organisation of Radical Anarchists with the aim to rally up support and lure protesters to Prague during the days of the summit next week.
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.
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