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Czech Battle To Convince Hostile Public Over US Missile Shield

Together with 10 interceptor missiles deployed in neighbouring Poland, the radar, which Washington says is aimed at protecting against a possible Iranian attack, has created rifts within NATO, roused Russian anger and split public opinion in the Czech Republic and Poland.
by Jan Marchal
Rokycany, Czech Republic (AFP) May 16, 2007
Facing fierce grassroots opposition and fear over US plans to extend its anti-missile shield to central Europe, the Czech government has a daunting task on its hands. Officials have set out to win over public opinion by embarking on an information campaign, meeting ardent protesters face-to-face at local meetings in areas near the site earmarked for an American tracking radar.

"I understand the worries. We are here to speak and respond to questions, but very often it is a duel using unequal weapons: they do not want to listen to us," complained deputy defence minister, Martin Bartak.

"We back up our arguments with facts, the opponents have recourse to incorrect facts or even total fiction," he added, at the meeting in Rokycany, one of the main towns bordering the Brdy hills and Czech army base set to host the radar.

Together with 10 interceptor missiles deployed in neighbouring Poland, the radar, which Washington says is aimed at protecting against a possible Iranian attack, has created rifts within NATO, roused Russian anger and split public opinion in the Czech Republic and Poland.

And late on Tuesday, Bartak, together with colleagues from the foreign ministry, faced a hostile crowd of up to 300 people at a gymnasium in the town around 60 kilometres (38 miles) southwest of Prague.

At the entrance, a pensioner brandished a sign with the message "Czech government -- dealer with US arms companies."

"For Americans, the main thing is not to fight a war on its own territory," shouted Miloslav Cerny, who came to the meeting from a nearby village.

For many, their rejection of the US plan is based on the very concept of a US military presence on Czech soil, while others, above all, fear the impact of the proposed radar's rays on their health.

In the packed hall, sentiments reflected opinion polls showing two out of three Czechs are against a US base. "Why can't this radar be further away? I'm young, I want to have children," shouted Karolina Huzincova from Skorice, a village where a local referendum resulted in 164 out of 165 votes against the radar.

Half a dozen villages have taken similar stances, with consultations expected to take place in another dozen.

Anti-base demonstrations have proliferated around the country with a protest organised for Prague on May 26, a few days ahead of President George W. Bush's visit at the start of June.

Anger at the American project, backed by the fragile centre-right Czech government, was manifested from the second the public debate began.

Frequently, speakers' arguments were drowned out by the uproar with no-one listening to explanations about the radar's technical parametres or a military doctor's assurances that it posed no health threat.

A sturdy 50-year-old grabbed the microphone at one point to repeatedly cry "You are all liars! You are traitors to the nation! You should leave." He himself soon left the gym, followed by most of the radar's opponents.

"I have taken part in many debates, this one was the worst," said Viktor Dvorak, of the foreign ministry's security policy department.

He said that the aim "is not to change opinions but to provide all the relevant information."

But like many others, Huzincova said she was unconvinced by the arguments of the experts from the capital.

"Nothing can convince me. Microwave ovens, mobile phones, all that damages health. And for the radar, it will be worse," she said.

The radar, scheduled to be ready for operation by 2011-2012, must be approved in a vote by parliament next year but the outcome is far from certain due to the way the issue has divided political parties.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Japan Wants Higher-Altitude BMD Research With US
Washington (UPI) May 16, 2007
Japan's defense minister called this week for a further extension and intensification of the already far-reaching ballistic missile defense cooperation between the two nations. The United States and Japan need to start cooperative work on developing new technologies to intercept and destroy high-altitude ballistic missiles, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said Tuesday, according to a Kyodo news agency report.

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