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8 Jul, 2008 02:44

Czechs carry the fight to government over U.S. radar

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Prague to sign an agreement with her Czech counterpart on an anti-missile radar base. It will be located in the Brdi region south-west of the Czech capital.

Anti-radar activists say they will gather on Prague's main square to protest against the decision.

The ‘No To Base’ campaign group is looking to gather half a million signatures, enough to make the Czech government sit up and listen.

“We know that 70% of the population is against the radar. But the government does not want to hear that or even discuss the issue. The state is not doing what is best for its people. We want a referendum,” says Jarmila Blahova of the ‘No To Base’ campaign group.

So far, the government has ignored calls for a referendum. Instead, it’s continued negotiations with the U.S. Now it’s playing host to America’s Secretary of State, but those against the missile defence treaty say there’s still time for the public to put the radar off-course.

Condoleezza Rice putting pen to paper does not mean the radar base is a foregone conclusion. It is only one stage in the process. Hundreds of people have turned up in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to sign this petition. They hope the government will take their signatures into account in any decision.

Before the deal is sealed, the treaty must be passed by the Czech Parliament. And with many MPs sporting anti-radar T-shirts it is not clear whether Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s centre-right coalition backing the plans can muster enough support.

Washington says its planned missile defence shield in Eastern Europe will counteract a perceived threat from “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea.

“I think it’s important that they speak up because many disagree, many know it goes against the interests of us as Europeans, that it is something that will undermine European security and also will make it more difficult for us, as Europeans, to have a common security policy or defence policy,” insists Jan Tamas from the Humanist Movement, which has gathered 130,000 signatures against radar deployment.