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Czechs May Refuse to Fund President’s Visit to Moscow Parade

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Czech President Milos Zeman speaks during an interview with Reuters at Prague Castle in Prague January 9, 2014. David W Cerny/Reuters

Czech president Miloš Zeman may have to fund his visit to Moscow next month himself if he decides to officially attend Russia’s May 9 military parade, the Czech Republic’s deputy prime minister has said.

Zeman, who is the only EU leader to accept the invitation to attend the march as others have boycotted in protest of Russia’s support for rebels in Ukraine’s east, has clashed with several other prominent figures in Czech politics on the issue, not least the U.S. ambassador to Prague.

Over the weekend ambassador Andrew Schapiro criticised Zeman for his plans to attend the march, to which Zeman responded by announcing that the doors of the presidential palace were “closed” to the American diplomat.

Since then the Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek have commented on the rift, calling it “unfortunate” and insisted they would prefer it if president Zeman’s approach to foreign policy and diplomacy was “more professional”.

Zeman’s presence at the upcoming parade in Moscow to commemorate allied victory over the Nazis has continued to be a controversial talking point in the Czech Republic, despite the president’s largely ceremonial role.

Now the Czech deputy prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek has weighed in, telling Czech news website iDnes that government ministers from his party will not support funding Zeman’s trip to Moscow if he does opt to attend the march.

Unlike Sobotka and Zaorálek, who are members of the Social Democratic Party, Bělobrádek is the leader of the Christian Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL), who are in coalition with the Social Democrats. Two more cabinet ministers are members of KDU-ČSL and should the Czech government is currently debating whether Zeman’s trip should be state funded. The discussion follows a motion being tabled in parliament on the very same issue.

Zeman’s possible attendance in Moscow on May 9 is one of several other controversies surrounding the line-up of leaders due to appear. Perhaps most notably Moscow has boasted that the reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is due to make an appearance in his first official state trip.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has come under heavy criticism from Russian liberal commentators about extending the invite to the leader.

Despite Moscow publicising that all of Russia’s allies during the second world war and all trade partners have been invited, the Kremlin has confirmed those leaders who will not attend include British prime minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk. The leaders of Bulgaria, Poland Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia and Slovakia have all reportedly rejected invitations to attend the event.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said 26 world leaders have accepted the invite to the march, including the leaders of Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus, though this has not been confirmed by the respective governments. Lavrov had previously said Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg had accepted the invite, which was denied by the Solberg who ultimately said she would not attend the march last month.

Meanwhile Serbia has agreed to contribute soldiers to the military parade and the country’s president Tomislav Nikolic, as well as the leader of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik will attend the event.

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