Greenpeace occupies radar base site as Condoleezza Rice trip postponed

Photo: CTK

Plans to build a radar base 70km southwest of Prague as part of the U.S. missile defence shield encountered a minor setback on Monday, as it emerged that U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will not visit Prague on May 5th to sign a bilateral agreement on the base. The news came as activists from the environmental group Greenpeace occupied the patch of land where the base is to be built.

Photo: CTK
The planned U.S. radar base has never been far from the news, and on Monday it returned to the front pages. Around 20 Greenpeace activists have set up camp in a grass clearing called Spot Height 718, the spot 718 metres above sea level chosen by officials from the U.S. Missile Defence Agency for the radar facility. Spot Height 718 is part of the restricted Brdy military area and Greenpeace are breaking the law, but spokeswoman Lenka Boráková told Radio Prague they weren’t going anywhere:

“The local Military Police chief came and asked us to leave and gave us a deadline of two o’clock on Monday to leave this place, but we didn’t. As you can see we’re still out here in the rain, but we’re not moving. We’ve decided that even the weather is not going to stop us.”

Photo: CTK
And it seems that the Military Police have no plans to go in and remove them, perhaps counting on rain, thirst and hunger to do the job instead. Military Police spokesman Jan Čermák had this to say to Czech Television:

“The Military Police have all the roads to Spot Height 718 covered, and we’re monitoring the situation. There’s no crisis plan being considered; we’re not preparing to go in.”

Condoleezza Rice,  photo: CTK
News that Greenpeace had occupied the site came on the same day that the Czech Foreign Ministry announced U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not have time to come to Prague in early May to sign a treaty on the radar base. It had been hoped she would attend a conference on missile defence being organised by the Czech Foreign Ministry on May 5th – a highly symbolic date for Europeans and Americans alike.

But “scheduling problems” have put paid to that idea, and prime minister Mirek Topolánek said her visit would probably take place in early June instead. A month’s delay might not seem important, but parliament must still ratify the treaty, and now that won’t happen until June or July or possibly even later, given that Czech politicians tend to disappear for the summer holidays.

That, however, is getting closer to the autumn’s Senate and local elections, which is a problem for Mr Topolánek and the centre-right government. The radar base plan is opposed by 70% of Czechs, and some members of his party say they’re worried about being punished at the polls. To say nothing of the difficulties in finding enough votes in parliament to ratify this controversial plan.