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Radio Free Europe Still Important - Christopher


PRAGUE, March 21 (Reuter) - U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Radio Free Europe (RFE) at its new home in the heart of the former East Bloc on Thursday and said its work remained important six years after the fall of communism.

Throughout most of the Cold War, the U.S.-funded RFE beamed news into eastern Europe from Munich. But last year it moved to Prague, settling in the communist-built former Czechoslovak parliament building.

Broadcasters cheered Christopher as he toured the concrete edifice, considered one of Prague's ugliest buildings, and told them that their work should continue despite the demise of communism.

"The work...remains very important to the development of democracy and free markets throughout this area," said Christopher, shortly before he was due to fly to Moscow for talks with President Boris Yeltsin.

RFE faced big budget cuts by congress after the end of the Cold War but Prague offered the parliament building to the station for a nominal rent. It had been empty since the country split into separate Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.

"This looks an absolutely ideal place to carry out the work of Radio Free Europe," Christopher said.

Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec said Prague's invitation to use the building had a significance dating from when Czechs listened to Western radio for uncensored news.

"We feel this is our debt to Western democracies. Now we try to pay the debt this way," he said.
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