Protesters who have come to demonstrate against the NATO summit are not the only ones to have doubts about the alliance. Others, however, have chosen a different way of voicing their opposition. Throughout the days of the summit, a peaceful discussion forum is being held in Prague's Hotel Olsanka, which is looking at alternative ways of securing peace in the world. The "Give Peace a Chance" project was organised by several ecumenical organisations including the Ecumenical Academy Prague and the European Contact Group. Dita Asiedu has been attending
World leaders from over 40 countries, including the US president George Bush, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the French President Jacques Chirac, are meeting in Prague for the biggest summit in NATO's history. According to NATO Secretary General George Robertson, the first day of the summit has been groundbreaking in many ways:
Security has been a widely debated issue in connection with the NATO summit. The summit organizers expected up to 12,000 anti-NATO demonstrators in the streets of Prague, and the Interior Ministry has made considerable effort to prevent riots such as those Prague witnessed during the IMF and World Bank meeting in 2000. 12,000 policemen and over 4,000 soldiers have been deployed in the streets to keep the situation under control in what is the country's biggest ever security operation. Rob Cameron is covering the situation in the streets of the
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.
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.
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