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Czechs demand vote on U.S. missile plans

Around a thousand people have gathered in the centre of the Czech capital Prague to protest against U.S. plans to build a missile defence system in Eastern Europe. The 'No to Bases' movement is calling for a national referendum on the issue.

Hundreds of Czechs gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. The protesters want a voice in the missile base debate, but say the government is not listening.

Opinion polls show 68 % of the population oppose U.S. plans to build a missile defence base in the Czech Republic.  
Despite this, the Czech government is ploughing ahead in its negotiations with the United States. A decision is set for early next year.

The protesters chose November 17 to hold their demonstration as this marks the start of the Velvet Revolution, which led to the collapse of the Communist regime back in 1989. It’s the day of struggle for freedom and democracy.

68% of population oppose U.S. plans
68% of population oppose U.S. plans

The rally organiser, the ‘No to Base’ campaign group, says it’s concerned that 18 years on and the country’s still a poor reflection of a democracy.  

“We’re saying it is now almost the same thing as before the Velvet Revolution. So that’s why we’re here today protesting for democracy, for real democracy and for a referendum. –on this issue, as well as on any other issue that we will face in the future,” Jan Tamas, ‘No to Base’ campaign organiser said.

Nevertheless, the Czech government denies the need for a referendum on the missile-base issue, saying the country is democratic enough as it is.

“The fact that this anti-missile-base protest is going ahead is evidence that this is a democratic country. People are entitled to voice their own opinions, for and against,” Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Prime Minister said.

Russia has strongly objected to having the installations in Eastern Europe. President Vladimir Putin’s concerned the U.S. wants to alter the balance of power in the region by bringing military assets so close to Russia's border. He has warned the missile shield could trigger a new arms race between the former Cold War foes.

Washington has tried to allay these fears. It says a missile defence shield is intended purely to counter a presumed future threat from Iran, North Korea and other “rogue regimes”.

But for the protesters in the Czech capital the U.S. move could pose a threat to their own national security. It’s a dangerous weapons project, they say, that could lead to a new conflict.