US president Barack Obama will deliver a major speech today, laying out his long-term goal to rid the world of nuclear arms.
After his address in the Czech Republic on a square near Prague’s medieval castle, Mr Obama will again meet many of the European Union heads of state he engaged at two summits last week – including his host, Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who recently denounced his economic stimulus plan as “the road to hell”.
Security was heavy in Prague, where sharpshooters staked out positions atop the capital’s signature red tile rooftops and more than 4,000 police and army troops deployed.
Before heading to his final stop – Turkey – Mr Obama was also 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 urging Mr Obama to scrap plans to put part of a US missile defence system outside Prague.
Many Czechs oppose the plan and fear it would make their country a terrorist target.
Yesterday, activists draped a banner over a bridge on the Vltava River that read: “YES WE CAN ... SAY NO TO US MILITARY BASE.”
Later, a small group of Communist Party demonstrators marched to the US 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 neighbouring Poland. Washington argued that the shield would help thwart an attack from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East.
Mr 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 today to call on Mr 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 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. Mr Topolanek said the issue – along with the global economic downturn – would dominate the 27-nation EU’s talks with Mr Obama.
“Now the question is what obligations the US will take on to contribute to a deal for the time after the Kyoto Protocol,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday.
“We look forward to the new co-operation because the American president has made clear that the US will take on a leading role in this.”
The Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the EU, which holds a summit with the US president at least once a year.
Mr Obama will ask the Europeans to consider sending more troops to Afghanistan and to take some of the prisoners now held at the US detention centre 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.
Mrs Merkel said EU leaders also wanted to discuss with Mr Obama what could be done to help countries such as Ukraine and some of the Balkan nations that have been badly hit by the economic crisis.
Mr Obama’s visit comes just two weeks after Mr Topolanek’s government collapsed amid bitter political infighting over the economic crisis and other issues.