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.
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 kilometers 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 kilometers per hour.
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.
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.
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.