- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

PRAGUE (AP) - Sharpshooters scouted out positions on Prague’s red tile rooftops and police stepped up patrols across the Czech capital Saturday as authorities tightened security for President Barack Obama’s weekend summit with leaders of European Union countries.

Officials planned to impose a no-fly zone over Prague starting at midday, and police increased their presence on Wenceslas Square and other popular tourist landmarks.

Obama arrived late Saturday. On Sunday, he will meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders, and deliver a speech laying out a long-term goal to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Obama also is expected to chat briefly with playwright and former president Vaclav Havel, who led the 1989 Velvet Revolution that peacefully toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

Thousands of people planned a demonstration Sunday urging the U.S. and Czech governments to scrap plans to put part of a missile defense system outside Prague. Many Czechs oppose the plan and fear it would make their country a terrorist target.

Activists draped a banner over a bridge on the Vltava River that read: “YES WE CAN … SAY NO TO U.S. MILITARY BASE.” And later Saturday, a small group of Communist Party demonstrators marched to the U.S. Embassy, chanting: “Yankee Go Home!”

The Bush administration angered Russia by pushing to install radar dishes at a Czech military base and put 10 interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland. Washington argued that the shield would help thwart an attack from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. Obama, who is trying to ease strained relations with Moscow, has said only that he is reviewing the plan.

Environmentalists also planned a rally in Prague on Sunday to call on Obama and the EU leaders to take quicker action on climate change.

Pressure is mounting on governments to slash greenhouse gas emissions in the run-up to a major U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the issue _ along with the global economic crisis _ would dominate the 27-nation EU’s talks with Obama.

“Now the question is what obligations the United States will take on to contribute to a deal for the time after the Kyoto Protocol,” Merkel said Saturday. “We look forward to the new cooperation because the American president has made clear that the U.S. will take on a leading role in this.”

“European leaders must use this EU-US summit to kick off a new era for trans-Atlantic action on climate change, backed up by ambitious action at home,” said Matthias Duwe of the Climate Action Network.

“EU citizens welcomed President Obama last time he was in Europe, and welcome his commitment to combat global warming. He must now match his fine words with strong leadership in the international negotiations,” Duwe said.

Up to 30,000 people were expected to pack a square near Prague’s medieval castle for Obama’s speech.

The Czech Defense Ministry outlined elaborate security measures that will include military aircraft, helicopters and special units trained to handle a chemical or biological attack. It said the army would join about 4,000 police officers being deployed over the weekend.

The Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the EU, which holds a summit with the U.S. president at least once a year.

Obama will ask the Europeans to consider sending more troops to Afghanistan and to take some of the prisoners now held at the U.S. detention center for suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Obama administration wants to close the prison by January, but it has been having trouble finding countries willing to take detainees.

Merkel said EU leaders also want to discuss with Obama what can be done to help countries such as Ukraine and some of the Balkan nations that have been badly hit by the economic crisis.

Obama’s visit comes just two weeks after Topolanek’s government collapsed amid bitter political infighting over the economic crisis and other issues.

The collapse embarrassed Czechs, and Topolanek caused another stir by denouncing Obama’s economic stimulus plan as “the road to hell.”

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