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19 Feb, 2009 00:33

Czechs rally against missile shield

Protestors in white robes carrying rainbow flags, including more than one hundred Czech mayors, showed up at the European Parliament headquarters in Brussels to campaign against the US planned missile shield.

Campaigners hope this is the turning point in their lengthy fight against the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defence system. The European Parliament is holding a public hearing to discuss the proposed shield.

They number over a hundred, but speak for the 70 per cent of Czechs who are against a radar base the US has proposed to be built to the south of Prague, in Byrdy.

The vast majority of Czechs fear the missile defence system and their country’s involvement with it actually endangers them, and the rest of Europe.

“This is a European issue and will influence the security in the entire continent and will have consequences for all of us living in Europe and beyond and as such should be discussed in the European Parliament,” said Jan Tamas, spokesman for the Czech Humanist Movement.

It would work in conjunction with a radar base at Fylingdales in the North of England, and with a missile launch site also mooted for Poland. This would form a US missile defence system in Europe which the White House says would protect itself and its allies against attacks from rogue states, like Iran.

Russia opposes the plans, saying it would be ineffectual as a defence, and threatens their national security. The rhetoric between Moscow and Washington intensified last year – The Kremlin, having already suggested alternative sites closer to Iran’s border, said it would place missiles on its western-most border of Kaliningrad as a countermeasure to the US’s bases.

Among the group that’s traveled to Brussels to raise the issue of the anti-ballistic missile or ABM defence system is Jan Noreal – the mayor from Trokavec

He’s campaigned at the European parliament numerous times on the radar-base issue. He says he’s surprised how little MEPs know on the subject.

“I was here in 2007 and was very surprised by the lack of information made available to the MEPs. I’ve come back with it. I consider the MEPs my representatives on the European stage. It’s important they know,” said Neoral.

Because of the strength of public sentiment at home, Mr Noreal has helped form the League of Mayors against the Radar Base. Over a 130 mayors support his fight, 13 out of 14 regional heads in the Czech Republic support the cause. But they face an uphill struggle.

The radar base plans, a pet project under the Bush Administration, have already been ratified in the upper chamber of the Czech parliament, and it’s now down to the lower house’s vote.

He feels that a change in president in the US, and a more conciliatory tone regarding the project from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are positive.

Clinton earlier this month said if it doesn’t work, it won’t be built.

But Noreal says he continues the fight, and won’t cease until the plans are completely dropped.

“Demonstrations, petitions, poster campaigns and online, trips such as this one. We try to do everything to make people know that there are people out there fighting for them and their views,” Neoral said.

Despite poll results, protests, even hunger strikes, opposition views to the radar base in the Czech Republic these people say, get little media coverage there. They say it’s as if they are invisible. But they intend to make Europe and its politicians hear them and start debating on an issue that affects them and the rest of the world and decide whether they are for or against the US’s plans.