Belarus has recalled its ambassador from Prague in connection with the Czech government's refusal to issue President Lukashenko an entry visa to the Czech Republic where he planned to attend the upcoming NATO summit. The Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ambassador had been recalled "for consultations". The Czech Foreign Ministry on Friday announced its decision to reject President Lukashenko's visa request on the grounds that his government violates human rights. A foreign ministry statement said that the rest of the Belarussian delegation had been issued visas out of "recognition and respect for the Belarussian community whose European orientation is well known". Over the past week President Lukashenko made several public threats, warning the Czech Republic that a rejection of his visa request would irrevocably damage bilateral relations and that Belarus would "open its borders allowing illegal immigrants and drugs to flood Europe".
Ten countries poised for EU membership have set out a common demand for entry terms which would not leave them worse off when they join the union in 2004. The EU candidates fear that the slow phase-in of aid proposed in Brussels' 40 billion euro enlargement budget combined with tough competition on EU markets could result in serious economic problems, leaving them worse off than prior to their admission to the EU. The common demand, drafted at a meeting in Warsaw, comes ahead of a final agreement on farm aid and infrastructure funding which is to be reached at the EU's Copenhagen summit in December.
It has been announced that the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is planning to attend the NATO summit in Prague, despite opposition from Brussels. According to the Interfax news agency, Ukraine's National Security Council ruled on Saturday that President Kuchma should head the Ukrainian delegation at the Council of European-Atlantic Partnership conference due to be held on the second day of the summit. Earlier this month, NATO downgraded the meeting from chief executive to foreign minister level in view of preventing Leonid Kuchma from attending. Relations between Ukraine and the West have been strained after the US accused the Ukrainian government of selling an advanced aircraft detection system to Iraq. The DPA press agency notes that the only way NATO could now prevent Leonid Kuchma from attending the conference would be by asking the Czech government to refuse to issue him a visa.
The Czech government has ended weeks of speculation by rejecting a visa request from the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to attend next week's NATO summit in Prague. The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said the visa would not be granted because Belarus did not respect human rights, adding that Mr Lukashenko had asked for special protection the Czech government could not afford. Mr Svoboda said the government did not want Mr Lukashenko to use the visit to "legitimise his position" in Belarus. However he said the rest of the Belarussian delegation would be allowed to travel to Prague to attend the summit.
There has not yet been any official response from Belarus, though opposition figures have welcomed the decision not to grant President Lukashenko a visa. Mr Lukashenko, who is often referred to as the last dictator in Europe, had previously said he would break off diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic if Prague refused the visa request. He has also threatened to throw open his country's borders so as to allow illegal immigrants and drugs easier access to western Europe. Belarus is not a NATO member, but co-operates with the alliance through the Partnership for Peace programme.
The Senate has approved a nation-wide EU referendum for next spring, giving Czech voters the opportunity to decide whether their country should join the European Union. All 67 senators present in the 81-seat upper house approved the bill, which must now be signed by President Vaclav Havel. The referendum would be held in June, and approval would pave the way for EU entry in 2004. The Czech Republic is one of 10 countries that hopes to close enlargement negotiations with Brussels next month, and receive a formal invitation to join the Union at December's Copenhagen summit.
Belarus has threatened to break off diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic if Prague refuses to grant visas to a delegation headed by the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko for next week's NATO summit in Prague. The Czech authorities have so far refused to allow Mr Lukashenko into the country, after NATO officials made it clear his presence at the summit would not be welcome. On Wednesday a furious Mr Lukashenko threatened retaliation, saying he would flood western Europe with illegal immigrants and drugs. Belarus is not a NATO member, but co-operates with the western military alliance through the Partnership for Peace programme.
The Czech Republic has won support from Sweden in its debate with the European Union over post-enlargement farm supports. A spokesman for the Czech Minister of Agriculture said his counterpart in Stockholm agreed with Prague's positions on milk quotas, wine-vineyard hectarage, cattle production and other points in ongoing talks with Brussels. Agriculture is one of four areas still being discussed as part of the Czech Republic's negotiations for joining the EU. So far the Czech government has rejected the EU's offer for a gradual introduction of farm subsidies for new member states.
President Vaclav Havel has signed a law allowing U.S. fighter jets to guard the skies over Prague for the duration of the summit. Mr Havel interrupted his convalescence in Portugal and returned to Prague on Thursday in order to sign the law. U.S. air force technical staff are due to arrive in the Czech Republic on Friday.
A new opinion poll released by the CVVM agency shows public support for EU membership at 47 percent, up from 40 percent three months ago and the highest figure ever recorded by the agency. Eighteen percent said they would vote against joining the EU, while 23 percent said they would take part in a referendum but hadn't made up their minds which way to vote. The average in other EU candidate countries is 65 percent in favour, 19 percent against.