Thu, April 09, 2009
World > Europe > Obama's travel to Europe

Feature: Security tightened as Obama visits Prague

2009-04-04 22:09:45 GMT2009-04-05 06:09:45 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

PRAGUE, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of policemen were deployed around Prague and roads were sealed off as the Czech capital was on unprecedented security alert for the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday.

On the last leg of his first European trip as the U.S. president, Obama received an unusual welcome by both Czech President Vaclav Klaus and outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at the Prague airport.

It also marked the first time that Klaus welcomes a visiting president at the airport.

As Obama's plane Air Force One arrived, the Prague airport halted takeoffs and landings for about half an hour and a no-fly zone over Prague had already been put into place, according to Czech officials.

Around 4,000 policemen are on duty in Prague this weekend for Obama's visit, increasing their presence at the city's famous Wenceslas Square and other popular tourist landmarks.

The police were joined by military staff even including special units trained to handle a chemical or biological attack, the Czech Defense Ministry said.

Instead of dining with the hosts, Obama chose to go for a romantic dinner with his wife Michelle in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities, on Saturday night.

Czech media reported that it was originally planned as a state visit with a gala dinner hosted by Klaus and followed later perhaps by a quick beer or two in one of Prague's famous pubs with Topolanek.

After meeting Topolanek and Klaus on Sunday morning, Obama will hold a luncheon summit with all leaders from the European Union (EU) countries, which only lasts around two hours.

But it was the first summit between the United States and the EU after Obama took office in January.

However, the summit will be preceded with a public address in a square outside the Prague Castle, the seat of Czech presidents, which will be the toughest challenge for the police.

It is the first public speech by Obama abroad since his inauguration.

Although the government encouraged citizens to join the event, the square is expected to be packed up with around 30,000 people due to its capacity.

It is really difficult to have so many people to go through inspection. According to security rules posted on the American Embassy in Prague, backpacks and umbrellas are not allowed in the audience, not to say firearms and weapons.

It was forecast on Czech Television that it will be "cloudy weather with occasional showers" on Sunday.

However, the weather will not prevent thousands of people from staging a demonstration Sunday urging the U.S. and Czech governments to give up plans to put part of a missile defense system on the Czech soil.

Three thirds of the Czech people oppose the plan, according to the latest poll.

They will be joined by environmentalists, who will call on Obama and the EU leaders to take quicker action on climate change.

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