NATO leaders in Prague for the two-day NATO summit have made a historic
decision to invite seven former Eastern Bloc nations to join the alliance
in a landmark expansion. The new members - Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - will be admitted to the
alliance in 2004. NATO Secretary General George Robertson called the
invitation a "crucially important decision". The Czech President
Vaclav Havel has welcomed the historic move:
"The alliance's decision to open itself once again to the new European democracies signifies that the unnatural division of Europe has come to an end in real terms and that the last surviving remnant of the Iron Curtain, that strange psychological wall that used to separate the old democracies from the post-communist ones, is finally breaking down."
The Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has arrived at Prague's Ruzyne airport to take part in the meeting of NATO and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on Friday. The alliance had made it clear that Mr Kuchma was not welcome at the Prague summit due to suspicions that Ukraine had sold a radar system to Iraq. Last week, the Czech government refused to grant an entry visa to the Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko, who had wished to attend the summit.
NATO leaders have agreed to create a rapid Response Force which is expected to be used in global anti-terror missions and operations against so-called rogue states. In a statement, leaders of the 19 NATO states said the new force with land, sea and air power would have initial operating capability by 2004 and be fully operational by 2006. The statement did not say how many troops would be in the force but the figure of 20,000 had been proposed by the United States. NATO's Response Force (NRF) will consist of "a technologically advanced, flexible, deployable, interoperable and sustainable" elements, said the statement.
Riot police on Thursday rebuffed about 1,500 anti-war demonstrators who
temporarily blocked access to the Congress Centre where dozens of
presidents, ministers and military leaders were attending the NATO
summit. No violence was reported, but at least three demonstrators were
detained during the four-hour march through the streets of Prague. The
demonstrators marched from nearby streets and squares towards Nuselsky
Bridge leading to the Congress Centre. They stood chanting and waving
banners for more than an hour across the span from the Congress Centre
The police, equipped with water cannons and riot gear, stood in front of the bridge until the protesters gave up and marched away. The demonstration was the largest since a coalition of groups called AntiNATO started protests on Tuesday, but far below organisers' expectations. They hoped 10,000 people would rally in Prague, but many would-be protesters from other European countries were turned away at the Czech border.
At a ceremony on Wednesday held at Prague Castle prior to the opening of the NATO summit in Prague, Czech president Vaclav Havel was honoured by 19 heads of state for his contribution as a dissident in Communist Czechoslovakia. The statesmen also praised his commitment to peace and democracy following the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Protesters who have come to demonstrate against the NATO summit are not the only ones to have doubts about the alliance. Others, however, have chosen a different way of voicing their opposition. Throughout the days of the summit, a peaceful discussion forum is being held in Prague's Hotel Olsanka, which is looking at alternative ways of securing peace in the world. The "Give Peace a Chance" project was organised by several ecumenical organisations including the Ecumenical Academy Prague and the European Contact Group. Dita Asiedu has been attending
World leaders from over 40 countries, including the US president George Bush, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the French President Jacques Chirac, are meeting in Prague for the biggest summit in NATO's history. According to NATO Secretary General George Robertson, the first day of the summit has been groundbreaking in many ways:
Security has been a widely debated issue in connection with the NATO summit. The summit organizers expected up to 12,000 anti-NATO demonstrators in the streets of Prague, and the Interior Ministry has made considerable effort to prevent riots such as those Prague witnessed during the IMF and World Bank meeting in 2000. 12,000 policemen and over 4,000 soldiers have been deployed in the streets to keep the situation under control in what is the country's biggest ever security operation. Rob Cameron is covering the situation in the streets of the
As NATO leaders discuss future security challenges, young people who will live with the legacy of those decisions hold their own summit in Prague. Two hundred undergraduate students from all around the world are taking part is what is called the Prague Atlantic Student Summit. Ian Willoughby talked to one of the delegates for the Czech Republic, Zuzana Vanysova.
At a press conference in Prague, US President George W. Bush has urged Iraq's Saddam Hussein to comply with a UN resolution or face the consequences of military action. Speaking after a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel on Wednesday, Mr Bush said that Iraq was a threat to peace and indicated that Saddam Hussein could either comply or be disarmed by force. Mr Bush said that NATO allies would discuss the matter during the NATO summit in Prague, which gets underway Thursday. The US president said he will call upon NATO countries to help disarm Iraq if Saddam Hussein refuses to give up the arsenal of deadly weapons which the US says he has stockpiled.
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