European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are reported to have decided on May 1st, 2004 as the date for the EU's enlargement to the east. Unnamed diplomats told the Reuters news agency that the Czech Republic and the nine other leading candidates for membership would probably join the EU one year after the signing of the EU accession treaty, expected in April 2003. The diplomats said the EU believed it would take the 15 member countries 12 months to ratify the treaty.
Earlier the Belarussian embassy said the country would be represented at the summit by Belarus's ambassador to NATO. The Belarussian authorities had previously threatened to boycott the summit altogether. Belarus has recalled its ambassador to Prague in protest at the decision not to grant Mr Lukashenko a visa.
A new opinion poll released on Monday shows public support for NATO at more than 60 percent. The survey, carried out by the CVVM agency, said 61 percent of Czechs were satisfied with their country's membership in the alliance, compared to 23 percent who said they were dissatisfied. However just under 50 percent of respondents were unhappy about the summit being held in Prague, while just 37 percent said it was good for the Czech Republic.
A spokesman for the Czech foreign ministry has said Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma will be allowed to attend this week's NATO summit in Prague. The spokesman, speaking to the German news agency DPA, said there was "no political problem" in granting a visa to Mr Kuchma. There had been speculation that Prague would refuse to allow him to attend the summit, along with the Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, who was denied a visa last week. Mr Kuchma's government was recently accused of selling military equipment to Iraq, a charge he denies. The president has also been implicated in the murder of an investigative journalist.
Czech police are stepping up their presence on the streets of Prague, as security arrangements for the two-day summit continue. Around 12,000 policemen will patrol the capital's streets on Thursday and Friday, in the country's largest ever security operation. Controls at border crossings have been tightened, while police marksmen will be deployed on rooftops. Rubbish bins have been removed from the city centre, amid fears of a bomb attack.
Commemorative ceremonies took place across the Czech Republic on Sunday to mark the 13th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which ended four decades of communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. Top officials and members of the public laid flower and lighted candles on Narodni Trida, the Prague street where the communist police brutally cracked down on a peaceful student demonstration, setting in motion events which toppled the communist regime. November 17th, marked as "freedom and democracy day" in the Czech Republic is also linked to student protests against the Nazi and communist regimes in earlier years.
Belarus has announced its intention to boycott the NATO summit in Prague. Angered by the Czech government's decision to deny President Lukashenko an entry visa to the Czech Republic, the Belarus Foreign Ministry said that no one would represent Belarus at the Council of Euro-Atlantic Partnership Conference due to be held on the second day of the summit. A spokesman for the Belarus Foreign Ministry said Prague had set "a dangerous precedent which questioned the unity of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance".
A group of about 200 anarchists used the anniversary to protest against the upcoming NATO summit in Prague. They took the same route as the 1989 student demonstration, calling for a world free of militarism and elite groups. Marching to the sound of drums, the proponents of a new world order advocated an end to private ownership to be replaced by a system of self-government by the people. Their spokesman Jiri Krovinek told the CTK press agency that anarchists planned several peaceful protests during next week's NATO summit in Prague, but that they would defend themselves if they were attacked by the police. Sunday's anarchist march through the Czech capital passed without incident.
The European Union is poised to agree on Monday that the biggest enlargement in the bloc's history will take place on May 1st, 2004. The 15 EU foreign ministers will meet their counterparts from the 10 leading candidate countries to review the state of accession talks less than a month before negotiations are due to conclude at the EU's Copenhagen summit. The candidate countries drafted a common demand regarding entry terms on Friday, stressing that EU accession should not leave them worse off than they are now.
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".
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