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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
German president tries to ease Czech tensions
Prague scene
Prague has been mired in a bitter dispute with Germany

German President Johannes Rau has arrived in the Czech capital, Prague, for a one-day visit, just nine days ahead of elections which have been dominated by a bitter diplomatic row with Germany.

Relations between the two countries have been soured in a blazing row over the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. The row prompted the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, to cancel a similar visit in March.

Mr Rau will only be meeting his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel, who has tried to calm the situation down.

German President Johannes Rau
Rau is trying to pour oil on troubled waters
The presence of a German president in Prague offers something of a contrast to the prevailing tone of the campaign.

German politicians have been demanding that Czech legislation covering the expulsions be repealed.

Czech leaders have responded with nationalist rhetoric.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of this visit, Mr Havel said he hoped it would calm the situation down a bit.

'Spirit of co-operation'

He also said that Chancellor Schroeder's cancellation of his trip to Prague in March was a telling sign of poor relations between the two countries.

Mr Rau's programme in Prague underlines a spirit of co-operation.

The two presidents will lay the foundation stone of a joint Czech-German school, and open an exhibition on Samizdat's literature.

But Mr Rau will not be meeting any of the politicians who have used strong words in the row with Germany, and Mr Havel's influence in this country is waning as his term of office nears its end.

Healing the injured relations between Prague and Berlin will be a long-term task.

See also:

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