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31 May, 2008 00:15

Hunger strikers stand firm against U.S. missile shield

Two campaigners in Prague are taking anti-radar base protests to another level. They’ve been on hunger strike for 19 days as the Czech Republic nears agreement with the U.S. to host part of its missile defence shield.

Jan Bednar from the ‘No to the Base’ campaign group has lost 10 kilograms in weight in just over two weeks. His liver is failing and jaundice is setting in, so doctors are urging him to end his hunger strike. But he’s refusing. He may look weak, but his will is strong.

“I will continue as long as I can, because I want people to realise that our government is putting us in a seriously dangerous situation through its negotiations on the U.S. radar base,” he says.

At the ‘No to the Base’ headquarters in Prague, second hunger striker Jan Tamas is documenting their plight on the web. He too has eaten nothing for 18 days, drinking only water. He says he'll only stop the strike if the government meets one of three demands.
“This means receiving a clear sign that negotiations about this base will be stopped, or getting a clear sign that there'll be a national referendum on the issue or that an open democratic debate about this issue will begin to take place,” he explains.

Since last year, Prague has been negotiating the terms of installing a radar base on Czech soil with Washington. Such a base would be part of a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe. Russia and China have heavily condemned the plans, saying it would set back international disarmament efforts.

Across the Czech Republic the radar plans have been met by a wave of protests, and the latest hunger strike is, perhaps, a last resort.

The hunger strikers say the Czech government is acting undemocratically in refusing to the consult the public on the issue, even though the latest opinion polls show that 65 per cent of Czechs are against the radar base.

The majority of people want a referendum, but the government disagrees. With only a fragile majority in Parliament, the government wouldn't have it easy, especially as the Greens and the Social Democrats largely oppose the plans.

But across town, there's a sound of optimism in the air: Prague's American Embassy is educating the public on the positive aspects of a radar base. The photo exhibition called 'Life with the Radar' shows people living happily on the Marshall Islands, which hosts the U.S. radar that could one day end up near Prague.

Whether these photos will have any bearing on public opinion remains to be seen.