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Iraqi, Czech Presidents Meet In Prague

Presidents Talabani (right) and Klaus (left) at Prague Castle yesterday Prague, 4 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has predicted during an official visit to the Czech Republic that Iraqis will approve a hotly debated draft constitution in a mid-October referendum and said that if democracy wins in Iraq, it will win elsewhere in the Middle East, CTK reported.

Talabani's comments came following a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus on 3 October, the first day of a three-day visit to this postcommunist country.

The 15 October referendum date for Iraq's draft constitution was set by the Coalition Provisional Authority under the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution.

Although members of the transitional National Assembly were due to begin work drafting a constitution soon after their election to office in January, the drafting committee did not set to work until late May.

Sunni leaders have complained that they were largely left out of the negotiations by Shi'ite and Kurdish drafters and have suggested they will oppose the draft document.

The Czech Republic currently maintains roughly 100 military police in southern Iraq, most of whom train local security forces, along with a small team of field doctors and nurses in the same region. The police are expected to remain in Iraq through 2006, although parliamentary approval must come first.

Talabani expressed appreciation over Czech support for Iraqis in their struggle during ousted President Saddam Hussein's regime, CTK reported. Talabani and Klaus agreed today that their countries should maintain close ties in the future, the agency reported.

Klaus suggested that Talabani's willingness to leave Iraq for an extended visit to his country is a testament to positive developments there.

Talabani noted that former President Vaclav Havel, the former dissident playwright who led Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic for more than a decade after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, was the first European head of state to receive the Iraqi opposition to Hussein and said the gates of Prague have remained open ever since.

Talabani also met with senior Czech legislators and is scheduled to meet with Havel later today.

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