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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 15:08 GMT
Last conscripts leave Czech army
By Rob Cameron
BBC correspondent, Prague

Soldier in Czech Republic
All Czech soldiers will now be career professionals
The last conscripts have left the Czech army as compulsory military service came to an end after 140 years.

The move is part of the modernisation of the Czech Republic's armed forces, bringing the country into line with other Nato members.

On Wednesday, 1,800 conscripts gave their final salute and left their barracks for the very last time.

They were the last remnants of a former Warsaw Pact army which has been dramatically scaled down.

From 1 January, the Czech army will number 24,000, all of them career soldiers.

Compulsory military service was introduced by Emperor Franz Jozef in 1868 when the Czech lands were part of Austria-Hungary.

Since that time, virtually all Czech men have been required to serve their country, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Generations escaped the draft by obtaining the notorious blue book - a doctor's certificate excusing them on medical grounds, either real or invented.

From today, however, the little blue book and the dreaded draft have finally been consigned to history.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Czech Republic
31 Oct 04 |  Country profiles
Profile: Nato
28 May 04 |  Country profiles


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