Commemorative ceremonies took place across the Czech Republic on Sunday to mark the 13th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which ended four decades of communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. Top officials and members of the public laid flower and lighted candles on Narodni Trida, the Prague street where the communist police brutally cracked down on a peaceful student demonstration, setting in motion events which toppled the communist regime. November 17th, marked as "freedom and democracy day" in the Czech Republic is also linked to student protests against the Nazi and communist regimes in earlier years.
Belarus has announced its intention to boycott the NATO summit in Prague. Angered by the Czech government's decision to deny President Lukashenko an entry visa to the Czech Republic, the Belarus Foreign Ministry said that no one would represent Belarus at the Council of Euro-Atlantic Partnership Conference due to be held on the second day of the summit. A spokesman for the Belarus Foreign Ministry said Prague had set "a dangerous precedent which questioned the unity of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance".
A group of about 200 anarchists used the anniversary to protest against the upcoming NATO summit in Prague. They took the same route as the 1989 student demonstration, calling for a world free of militarism and elite groups. Marching to the sound of drums, the proponents of a new world order advocated an end to private ownership to be replaced by a system of self-government by the people. Their spokesman Jiri Krovinek told the CTK press agency that anarchists planned several peaceful protests during next week's NATO summit in Prague, but that they would defend themselves if they were attacked by the police. Sunday's anarchist march through the Czech capital passed without incident.
The European Union is poised to agree on Monday that the biggest enlargement in the bloc's history will take place on May 1st, 2004. The 15 EU foreign ministers will meet their counterparts from the 10 leading candidate countries to review the state of accession talks less than a month before negotiations are due to conclude at the EU's Copenhagen summit. The candidate countries drafted a common demand regarding entry terms on Friday, stressing that EU accession should not leave them worse off than they are now.
It has been announced that the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is planning to attend the NATO summit in Prague, despite opposition from Brussels. According to the Interfax news agency, Ukraine's National Security Council ruled on Saturday that President Kuchma should head the Ukrainian delegation at the Council of European-Atlantic Partnership conference due to be held on the second day of the summit. Earlier this month, NATO downgraded the meeting from chief executive to foreign minister level in view of preventing Leonid Kuchma from attending. Relations between Ukraine and the West have been strained after the US accused the Ukrainian government of selling an advanced aircraft detection system to Iraq. The DPA press agency notes that the only way NATO could now prevent Leonid Kuchma from attending the conference would be by asking the Czech government to refuse to issue him a visa.
Belarus has recalled its ambassador from Prague in connection with the Czech government's refusal to issue President Lukashenko an entry visa to the Czech Republic where he planned to attend the upcoming NATO summit. The Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ambassador had been recalled "for consultations". The Czech Foreign Ministry on Friday announced its decision to reject President Lukashenko's visa request on the grounds that his government violates human rights. A foreign ministry statement said that the rest of the Belarussian delegation had been issued visas out of "recognition and respect for the Belarussian community whose European orientation is well known". Over the past week President Lukashenko made several public threats, warning the Czech Republic that a rejection of his visa request would irrevocably damage bilateral relations and that Belarus would "open its borders allowing illegal immigrants and drugs to flood Europe".
Ten countries poised for EU membership have set out a common demand for entry terms which would not leave them worse off when they join the union in 2004. The EU candidates fear that the slow phase-in of aid proposed in Brussels' 40 billion euro enlargement budget combined with tough competition on EU markets could result in serious economic problems, leaving them worse off than prior to their admission to the EU. The common demand, drafted at a meeting in Warsaw, comes ahead of a final agreement on farm aid and infrastructure funding which is to be reached at the EU's Copenhagen summit in December.
The Czech government has ended weeks of speculation by rejecting a visa request from the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to attend next week's NATO summit in Prague. The Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, said the visa would not be granted because Belarus did not respect human rights, adding that Mr Lukashenko had asked for special protection the Czech government could not afford. Mr Svoboda said the government did not want Mr Lukashenko to use the visit to "legitimise his position" in Belarus. However he said the rest of the Belarussian delegation would be allowed to travel to Prague to attend the summit.
There has not yet been any official response from Belarus, though opposition figures have welcomed the decision not to grant President Lukashenko a visa. Mr Lukashenko, who is often referred to as the last dictator in Europe, had previously said he would break off diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic if Prague refused the visa request. He has also threatened to throw open his country's borders so as to allow illegal immigrants and drugs easier access to western Europe. Belarus is not a NATO member, but co-operates with the alliance through the Partnership for Peace programme.
A new opinion poll released by the CVVM agency shows public support for EU membership at 47 percent, up from 40 percent three months ago and the highest figure ever recorded by the agency. Eighteen percent said they would vote against joining the EU, while 23 percent said they would take part in a referendum but hadn't made up their minds which way to vote. The average in other EU candidate countries is 65 percent in favour, 19 percent against.