First signs of discontent over US missile interceptor base

Photo: CTK

The first signs of discontent over potential plans to build a US missile interceptor base on Czech territory made a tentative appearance on Monday, as around one hundred demonstrators gathered in Prague to make their feelings known. The demonstration - organised by Czech and American peace activists - was a tiny one, and briefly descended into a slanging match with a group of Young Communists.

Photo: CTK
However most of the participants were ordinary people opposed to the plans. Here's the view of one elderly woman attending Monday's demo.

"At the moment the President of the United States is not a trustworthy person in my eyes, and I just don't trust the Americans when they say what kind of rockets they're going to have or what their intentions are. That's why I'm against the bases. And it's also to do with our past, when there was a different army here."

A reference there to the substantial presence of the Red Army in Czechoslovakia during Communist times. The demonstration was called by a new civic initiative No to Bases. Jan Tamas is the group's spokesman.

"This is a protest happening - we're marching with fake rockets. What we want to do is draw attention to the fact that there hasn't been enough discussion about these bases and the US plans to locate them here. We want to call on citizens to join in this debate and sign our petition, which is demanding a referendum on the issue."

Successive opinion polls have shown substantial public opposition to the planned base. Washington is likely to issue a formal request to both the Czech Republic and Poland in September, and security experts believe that for both military and political reasons the installation will be divided up between the two - radar and tracking station in one country, interceptor base itself in the other.

Photo: CTK
Czech politicians realise that allowing the US to build such a sensitive military installation - the first time part of the Missile Defence Shield would be located in Europe - is not popular with the public. They are, therefore, broadly in agreement that a referendum should be held on the issue, although left-wing parties are far more united than those on the right.

The issue looks set to become an extremely divisive one for most of the remainder of this year and perhaps for many to come. Many members of the public complain they lack proper information - some believe, for example, that the facility would be armed with nuclear weapons, which experts say is nonsense. Just one of the many myths about a base which is still very much in its infancy.