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Czech Republic hits back at re-imposition of Canadian visas
14-07-2009 - Chris Johnstone

Jan Kohout and Jan Fischer - right(Photo: ČTK) The Czech Republic has hit back at Canada’s reintroduction of visas on its citizens within hours of the move being announced by Ottawa. In reply, Prague has imposed visas on Canadian diplomats and is now seeking tougher measures from Brussels and EU states. The incident marks a sudden souring in normally friendly relations.

Canada’s step had been talked about for weeks. But the Czech side appeared to believe that top level last minute talks and the backing of the European Union had at least forced Ottawa to think again about reintroducing visas after a two year visa free regime.

The shock and anger in Prague was therefore almost palpable after Canada’s decision was announced on Monday night. Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer announced the rapid Czech reply to Ottawa following a special meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday morning.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has introduced requirements for all holders of Canadian diplomatic and service passports. In accord with the government’s decision, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will launch the so-called solidarity process and will notify the European Commission that Canada has introduced visa requirements for the Czech Republic and the European Commission should within three months propose what steps should be taken towards Canada.”

Prague has already spelled out that it wants Brussels and fellow EU states to take the tit-for-tat step of imposing visa obligations on all Canadians who visit the EU. Failing this, the Czechs say they will feel within their rights to go it alone and impose visa requirements on Canadians by themselves.

Photo: ČTK In his news conference, Prime Minister Fischer described Canada’s visa reintroduction as unjust and unhelpful and underlined the normally friendly relations between the two countries. Mr Fischer argued as well that the main problem behind the visa reintroduction – the surge of Czech Roma seeking asylum in the country appeared to be easing. The number of Czech asylum applications in Canada was 25 percent lower in June compared with May.

Canadian ambassador in Prague, Michael Calcott, said the Czechs were warned well in advance that visas were going to be reintroduced.

“The surprise factor is a bit of a surprise to me if you like. Our minister for citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, was here on June 28 to 30 and met with minister Kohout, minister Pecina and minister Kocáb and the prime minister. And on June 29 he informed all of them that the decision was made by the Canadian government to impose the visa and that it was not for negotiation. He was simply informing them that the visa would be imposed.”

The imposition of visa requirements comes at the height of the summer tourist season. Around 4,000 Czechs a month normally travel to Canada at this time. The situation for them is further complicated by the fact that Canada has closed its consular section in Prague and Czech tourists will now be forced to go to Vienna for visas.

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