Speaking about the challenges facing NATO George Bush said in Prague that his priorities are to prepare the alliance for its new mission in combating international terrorism as well to line up European support for possible confrontation with Iraq. The US president also indicated that planned NATO enlargement to include new members would strengthen the capability of the alliance to fight against global terrorism. During the two-day summit seven east European nations will be invited to join the nineteen member alliance. NATO leaders are also expected to give the green light on the creation of a strike force for high-intensity warfare, as well as to give the go-ahead for the redesigning of NATO's increasingly out-dated command structure.
At a press conference in Prague, US President George W. Bush has urged Iraq's Saddam Hussein to comply with a UN resolution or face the consequences of military action. Speaking after a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel on Wednesday, Mr Bush said that Iraq was a threat to peace and indicated that Saddam Hussein could either comply or be disarmed by force. Mr Bush said that NATO allies would discuss the matter during the NATO summit in Prague, which gets underway Thursday. The US president said he will call upon NATO countries to help disarm Iraq if Saddam Hussein refuses to give up the arsenal of deadly weapons which the US says he has stockpiled.
Security measures were further tightened on Tuesday following the discovery of an explosive device on a rail track near Prague. A police spokeswoman confirmed that the device was found by rail workers near the Prague-Kyje train station, a few kilometres from a military airfield on the city's east side. The bomb was safely defused and no one was injured. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross ordered extra safety precautions a few hours later, including an order that trains in and around Prague should not exceed a speed limit of thirty kilometres per hour. The incident prompted President Havel to say that although the Czech Republic was doing everything in its power to provide security, risks would remain throughout the summit.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General George Robertson said in Prague on Wednesday that the leaders of the 19 NATO member countries will debate the question of a common stance towards Iraq during Thursday's working lunch at the Prague Congress Centre, the main site of summit talks. Lord Robertson added that until then, the NATO Alliance would base its stance solely on the UN Security Council's recent resolution. The secretary general added that if Iraq were to disarm on its own, a military operation would not be necessary.
The first of several planned demonstrations protesting the NATO summit
have begun in the Czech capital: in Prague's historic centre some four
hundred communist supporters came out Wednesday to rally around
communist party leader Miroslav Grebenicek; they carried portraits of
communist revolutionaries, the Soviet flag, and banners decrying
capitalism. Speaking against the alliance, Mr Grebenicek told listeners
that there was no justification for NATO's existence, and equated NATO
strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999 with "war crimes". He also called it
a disgrace that the NATO summit was being held in Prague at all.
Elsewhere thirty left-wing demonstrators gathered at a Prague square earlier in the day in protest of the summit: an organiser from one protest group, the Initiative Against War, told reporters the demonstration decried the possible military action looming over Iraq. He added his organisation was against violence of any kind. These protesters later joined the communists, making their way throughout the city singing songs and shouting slogans; some of the protestors wore scarves partially covering their faces. Police looked on but did not have to intervene as both demonstrations took place without any violent incidents
Meanwhile, one more protest taking place Wednesday evening is a gathering of anarchists who are using noise to protest the summit outside one of its venues, Prague's Obecni dum, the historic Municipal House, where Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda is holding a special dinner for delegation members in Prague due to the summit. A strong police presence has made itself felt since early in the day, the area is completely blocked off, but police have not had to intervene. A little over two hundred anarchist protestors have gathered so far, beating drums, and using other instruments to cause as much noise as possible. Loudspeakers, delivered by a small truck, have been set-up some three hundred metres from the historic building; so far the protest has gone peacefully. Dozens of photographers, journalists, and TV crews are also at the scene. The anarchists are said to be protesting what they call politicians' disdain to world hunger.
After meeting with US president George Bush Wednesday Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the Czech Republic would support an allied military strike against Iraq if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with the UN Security Council's resolution. Czech officials have also suggested that the headquarters of the North Atlantic Alliance for the battle against weapons of mass destruction could be based in the Czech Republic.
As delegates to the NATO summit arrive in Prague, the police has stepped up its presence in the streets of the Czech capital. Twelve thousand policemen and four thousand soldiers have been assigned to protect the 2,000 summit delegates from anti-NATO demonstrators and terrorists. Over the next three days some parts of the Czech capital will be closed to the public.
The US President George Bush arrives in Prague this evening ahead of this week's historic NATO summit. Mr. Bush told newsmen, prior to departure, that his priorities were to ready the alliance for its new mission in combating international terrorism and to line up European support for a looming confrontation with Iraq. Seven east European nations will be invited to join the 19 member security alliance and President Bush emphasized that this was not a move directed against Russia. "Today we face a new threat, and the alliance must be restructured to meet it," the US president told reporters. In the course of the two day summit alliance leaders are expected to give the green light to a strike force for high intensity warfare and to revamping NATO's increasingly obsolete military command structure.
The incident prompted President Havel to say that although the Czech Republic was doing everything in its power to provide security, risks would remain throughout the summit. "Terrorist attacks can happen wherever and whenever. There is no place in the world today where you would get a 100% guarantee of safety" Mr. Havel told reporters. Last Thursday the police arrested five people for allegedly plotting to cut power supply to the summit venue. Czech border officials have refused some 250 foreigners entry into the Czech Republic on the grounds of being a potential security threat. Many of them were on a blacklist of "undesirable persons", others were found to have iron rods, tear gas or other suspicious objects in their possession.
President Havel has expressed support for the idea of securing the Czech Republic's air defense system in cooperation with Slovakia. On Monday the Czech Cabinet officially cancelled a plan to buy 24 supersonic Gripen fighter jets as replacement for the country's aging Soviet-era planes. Faced with a mounting budget deficit and the cost of this year's devastating floods, the government has been forced to consider a less costly way of securing the country's air defense. One option that is being seriously considered is the possibility of cooperating on air defense with the Czech Republic's eastern neighbour Slovakia. The Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan has said Slovakia is ready to discuss the idea.
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