President Barack Obama arrived in Prague Saturday evening following stops in London and Strasbourg. On Sunday, Obama will give his first public speech in Europe since being swept into office last November.
Security was out in full-force in the Czech capital, but protests remained peaceful on a sunny Saturday afternoon as the finishing touches were put on the setting for Obama's speech. 30,000 are expected to make their way up to Prague Castle for the event.
Hradcanske Square will be a stirring backdrop for Obama's dramatic speech on nuclear nonproliferation. Perched atop the city, Obama is expected to detail his long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama wll take the stage at 10 am local time after meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus inside Prague Castle, the seat of Czech presidents. Later on, Obama will head to Prague's Congress Centre for the EU-USA Summit before moving on to Turkey.
Obama's visit comes at an awkward time for the Czech leadership. On March 24, the Czech government led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a vote of confidence in a display of political infighting in the middle of deepening credit crisis. The Czech Republic is the third central or eastern European nation to lose its leadership as the region is struggling to cope with growing fears of economic uncertainty.
Topolanek made headlines in March when he denounced Obama's economic stimulus plan as the road to hell. While speaking at the European legislature, Topolanek said that financial bail-out would undermine the stability of the global financial market.
For his part, Obama decided to join his wife, Michelle, for dinner in Prague, rather than take part in a formal meeting with Topolanek.
Teeming with tourists, Prague had a business-as-usual feel Saturday, with the only major interruption the closure of the airport for a few hours.
Demonstrations have been largely free of violence, as groups of young protestors mingled with the tour bus crowd near the foot of the Charles Bridge.
I heard that President Obama was going to be in Prague, so I detoured the family from Rome, said New York native Donald Molino, buying trinkets for his children on the Charles Bridge. We are supposed to be touring the Coliseum right now, but I wanted the kids to see the President.
Army veteran Rey Secorde was headed to Prague Castle to scout his position for Sunday morning's speech. I am not crazy about (Obama's) politics. I voted for John McCain, but I respect Obama a great deal. I have never been treated as well in Europe.
However, not everybody was enamored with Obama's visit, as evidenced by a gathering of those opposed to plans by the U.S. and Czech governments to build some of a missile defense system outside Prague. A sign draped over a bridge read: YES WE CAN ... SAY NO TO U.S. MILITARY BASE.
Czech student Jiri Kolpek, sporting a Che Guevera shirt in Prague's main square, echoed the sentiments of a few in his group, saying that the US continues to represent everything that is wrong with capitalism.
I have heard some people call Obama a socialist, he said. Please do not insult socialists by saying this...he is just supporting corporate interests.
Its been a dizzying week for Obama, but the hectic pace and lack of sleep for the President was well worth it. His press conference at the G20 earlier in week drew the applause of the normally cynical European press corps and cemented his stature as the world's most popular national leader.
Obama reportedly brokered a deal between the French and Chinese, and was roundly credited with ushering in a new, more thoughtful approach to diplomacy. Reports prior to the G20 hinted that the meeting could have degenerated into a diplomatic fiasco, but in the end it was all smiles, as global leaders agreed to do whatever is necessary to stimulate the global economy, as well as enact regulatory reforms to strengthen the financial system.
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