- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

PRAGUE (AP) - It’s not easy to say “Velvet Revolution” in Czech, but President Barack Obama came off sounding almost like a native speaker.

“Sametova Revoluce,” he told the crowd that packed a Prague square for his speech Sunday, recalling how the former Czechoslovakia peacefully shook off communism in 1989.

Cheers went up as the phrase rolled off the president’s tongue.

Obama went on to evoke the memory of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, who helped found Czechoslovakia as an independent nation in 1918 and served as the country’s first president. Masaryk, he noted, spent time in Obama’s hometown: Chicago.

Among the locals who were impressed was Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

“I was almost surprised how much the U.S. president highlighted the Czech experience in his speech,” Topolanek said afterward.

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Not everyone was pleased with what Obama had to say _ especially when he waded into a ticklish issue: plans to build a U.S. missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and neighboring Poland.

Many Czechs oppose the plan to station radar dishes at a military base outside Prague, fearing it could make their country a terrorist target.

Obama said Washington would proceed with developing the system as long as Iran poses a threat to the security of the United States and its allies. The Bush administration, which first proposed the shield, argued that it would help guard against an attack by Iran or another “rogue” regime in the Middle East.

Jan Tamas, a Czech peace activist who has helped organize numerous demonstrations and protest marches against the missile shield, expressed his disappointment Sunday.

“Obama has not yet fulfilled the expectations he raised” by saying previously that the new administration was reviewing the plan, Tamas said. Czech opponents had held out hope that Obama might scrap the system.

Instead, “it is a continuation of Bush’s policy with slight digressions,” Tamas said.

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Anybody got Obama overdose?

Apparently Obama thinks so.

“I know that many of you are tired of seeing me,” Obama said to leaders of the European Union. “You’re thinking, `When’s he going to go back home?’”

In his first major splash abroad as president, Obama has, in fact, seen plenty of such European allies as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Those group photos are already piling up.

Since Wednesday, Obama commanded international attention in England during a summit of major economies, then did the same at the NATO summit held in France and Germany, and then again in Prague where the European Union members gathered.

Obama also noted his potential overexposure in a photo op Sunday with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

“Hello, everybody,” the president said. “I hope you’re not tired of me by now.”

He’s not done yet. Obama will be in Turkey on Monday and Tuesday before capping his eight-day journey.

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Michelle Obama’s star power _ a combination of glamour and easy warmth that seems to be both confounding and utterly charming Europeans _ has almost overshadowed her husband’s.

So Obama echoed President John F. Kennedy’s famous line about his wife during their iconic European trip in 1961, when Jackie Kennedy stole the show by wowing Europe and the world. It was Mrs. Kennedy’s first presidential trip to France, and her reception led her husband to introduce himself as “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”

In Prague, Obama said: “Today, I am proud to stand here with you in the middle of this great city, in the center of Europe. And to paraphrase one of my predecessors I am also proud to be the man who brought Michelle Obama to Prague.”

Mrs. Obama was returning to Washington from Prague, making it her last stop of the trip. Obama was continuing on to Turkey for two days of events.

One of the president’s top aides said Obama had long ago resigned himself to traveling in his wife’s shadow.

“Michelle Obama has fans all across the world, but there’s no greater fan than the president himself,” senior advisor David Axelrod said in a CNN interview. “And I think, you know, he’s happy to back in her reflected glow.”

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Prague’s medieval castle _ the picturesque backdrop for Obama’s address _ is a special chateau even on a continent studded with them.

The castle, the most treasured Czech symbol and the seat of the president’s office, was founded in the ninth century. It is among the treasures on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

The castle, perched on a hill overlooking the capital and the Vltava River that slices through it, is actually a sprawling combination of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

Its most visible monument, St. Vitus Cathedral _ where five saints are buried alongside Czech kings _ dates to the 10th century.

The castle’s Web site says it has another claim to fame: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the largest “coherent” castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 square meters, or 753,000 square feet.

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Associated Press writer Karel Janicek and AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

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