Thousand in Prague protest over U.S. missile defense ahead of Bush's visit

May 27, 2007

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP)- More than a thousand people gathered Saturday in downtown Prague to protest at plans by Washington to place parts of a new missile defense system in the Czech Republic.

The U.S. wants to host a missile tracking radar system at a base in a military area near Prague, and is in talks with Poland to house 10 interceptor rockets on its territory as part of plans for a missile defense shield that Washington says would protect against a potential threat from Iran and North Korea.

Waving banners which read «Stop the radar» and «No missiles are peaceful», the protesters, who requested a nationwide referendum on the issue, gathered at central Wenceslas Square and chanted «We don't want the radar here» just a week ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Prague.

They planned to march through the city to Prague Castle.

«It is more likely that Europe will be hit by an asteroid than Iran would use missiles to attack Europe,» said Jan Tamas, an organizer of the rally.

The Czech government has been receptive to the proposal but it is unpopular among the public, with more than 60 percent of Czechs opposing the plan according to several recent polls.

It has also run into strong opposition from Russia, which says it could trigger a new arms race, and from some Western European countries that want a bigger NATO role in the project.

The anti-missile system is also likely to be high on the agenda when President Bush visits the two NATO members during a trip to Europe in June and the protesters pledged to stage another rally in Prague during his visit on June 4.

«The radar would worsen the attitude of Czechs toward America,» said Vladimira Konvalinkova, 55, who came Saturday from the southern town of Cesky Krumlov to join the protest.

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