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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 17:14 GMT
Czech row dominates German visit
Milos Zeman questioned by journalists on his comments
Zeman's comments have kicked up a row
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is on a visit to Prague, has tried to calm tempers in a row over controversial comments made by the Czech prime minister.


Such language is not what we expect from a future member state

Jean-Christophe Filori
Prime Minister Milos Zeman has been quoted as comparing Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler.

The comments have drawn fury from the Arab world as well as from the European Union.

But Mr Fischer told reporters he did not want to dwell on the dispute and would rather focus on future relations with the Czech Republic, which is preparing for EU membership.

The controversy has not helped the country's image in Brussels.

'Misquoted'

"It goes without saying that the European Commission totally disagrees with the statements made by Prime Minister Zeman. Such language is not what we expect from a future member state," EU spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said.

Mr Zeman has tried to stamp out the scandal by stressing that his country's policy towards the Middle East is in step with that of the EU.

He pinned the blame for the controversy on "awkward English," saying he had been misquoted by journalists - an explanation which Mr Fischer said he had accepted.

Joerg Haider
Zeman already caused controversy over his comments on Haider
"I would like to stress that I never compared Arafat with Hitler," Mr Zeman said.

However, the BBC has obtained a recording of Mr Zeman giving an interview with Israeli television, in which he does liken the Palestinian Authority to Hitler's Third Reich.

Mr Zeman, however, said he had not seen the televised interview. "I therefore on principle do not comment on any thing which I did not see myself," he added.

Czech President Vaclav Havel has condemned Mr Zeman's comments and Egypt has asked Mr Zeman to delay a trip scheduled for 28 February.

This is not Mr Zeman's first diplomatic gaffe.

Earlier this year he soured the already poor relations with Austria by calling Joerg Haider, the former leader of the far-right Freedom Party, a "populist pro-Nazi politician".

See also:

19 Feb 02 | Europe
'Hitler' comment sparks Arab fury
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