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.
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.
Police say they have uncovered a plot by five extremists to cut the power supply to parts of Prague during the NATO summit. A police spokeswoman said the plans were discovered during police questioning of the five, adding that the group had targeted the summit's location and the city's metro system. She gave no further details. Up to 12,000 police and soldiers are preparing for the arrival of more than 40 leaders for the key meeting of the alliance next week. It's the first summit to be held in one of NATO's post-Communist member states, and the first since the September 11th attacks.
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.
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.
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