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Gorbachev Begins Delayed Czech Visit

April 09, 1987|Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev began a delayed visit to Prague today and was welcomed by thousands of people who hope he will bring some of his reforms to Czechoslovakia.

Gorbachev, whose reform program in the Soviet Union has been viewed with a lack of enthusiasm by Prague's conservative leaders, postponed the visit by three days, reportedly because he had a cold.

The Soviet Communist Party leader and his wife, Raisa, were met at Prague airport by President Gustav Husak, who also heads the nation's Communist Party; Premier Lubomir Strougal, and chief party ideologist Vasil Bilak.

The Soviet leader appeared healthy but wore an overcoat and felt hat despite the relatively mild and sunny weather and a temperature of 59 degrees.

Problems With Style

Husak, 74, one of the Soviet Bloc's most conservative leaders, is reported uncomfortable with Gorbachev's style. He and the 56-year-old Kremlin leader smiled and shook hands but did not embrace.

Czechoslovak state television quoted Vadim Zagladin, deputy head of the Soviet Central Committee's International Department, as saying Gorbachev will make an important foreign policy statement during the visit.

Gorbachev is scheduled to give a speech Friday. There have been persistent rumors that he will announce a partial withdrawal of the 80,000 Soviet troops who have been stationed in the country since the 1968 Soviet-led invasion to crush liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the so-called "Prague Spring" or make a new arms reduction proposal.

An enthusiastic crowd, which state television estimated at 15,000, also welcomed Gorbachev as he arrived at Hradcany Castle, where the president's office is located.

Most of the crowd had clearly been gathered as part of the official reception, but their enthusiasm appeared genuine.

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