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Dropped US radar plan may affect Czech election campaign
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Campaigners in the two main opposing camps for the Czech legislative elections are still fathoming the void left by the US decision to drop its planned missile shield.

Both the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) that leads the ruling coalition and the main opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) are readying themselves for more controversies to pop up as a result of the void.

US President Barack Obama announced Thursday last week that his administration would shelve the missile shield plan, which would include building a radar station near Prague and deploying anti-missile rockets in Poland.

"The US move has put in doubt a signed agreement about security of its allies in (Eastern) Europe," said a statement issued by a group of right-wing ODS senators, who threw their weight behind the missile shield.

To them, the US scrapping of the plan was seen as almost an insult added to injury. The senators perceive the Americans as putting Russian interests ahead of theirs and they took that as an extra loss of face.

Incumbent Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, from the ODS, lost a no-confidence vote earlier this year. Under an agreement between the ODS and CSSD, a caretaker government has been formed until elections can be held.

The ODS senators warned that, with the US scrapping of the missile shield plan, the Czech Republic could fall into the Russian sphere of influence.

CSSD chairman Jiri Paroubek, however, said the ODS led by Topolanek and former president Vaclav Havel was simply trying to set up a "new Iron Curtain" on the continent.

"You (Havel) alongside Topolanek, (former foreign minister) Karel Schwarzenberg and (deputy prime minister) Alexander Vondra are placing a stake on military confrontation," he said last week.

The opposition CSSD for its part may have no time to celebrate the US decision as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has suggested the Czech Republic and Poland are priority candidates for hosting part of a sea- and land-based anti-missile system aimed at intercepting Iranian rockets.

A disheartened Schwarzenberg was so low as to describe Clinton's suggestion as "putting up a smoke screen" for the Czechs.

Because it came so close to Obama's announcement, even the ODS has not started to look at the Clinton suggestion closely.

However, acting Czech Defense Minister Martin Bartak was in Washington late last week to express interest in incorporating the Czechs into the US Missile Defense Agency, which is charged with designing and deploying a missile defense system for the United States and its allies.

While most of the West European countries were subdued in their response to the US decision, Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos express his happiness and welcomed the end of a plan he had billed as "senseless."

Paroubek, who described the dropping of the plan as a "victory for the Czech people," is firmly against deploying missiles on Czech land.

He said it was a popular belief in the country, which had just been confirmed by Obama's announcement, that there was no need fora US missile defense shield.

With early polls drawing close, both the ODS and CSSD are carefully maneuvering in the pre-election campaigns.

The last legislative elections saw the CSSD garnering 74 seats in the 200-seat chamber of deputies (parliament) while the ODS gained 81.

As the main opposition plans to make the most of a popular sentiment against foreign military presence in the republic, the ODS looks to trumpeting up the threats from both Iran and Russia to keep themselves in front of the election race.

(Xinhua News Agency September 24, 2009)

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