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Prague faces Saudi sanctions after president's remarks

Mikuláš Klang Mikuláš Klang, Ivan Eckhardt
17. 6. 2014 16:42
Czech foreign minister met with Arab ambassadors Tuesday after Saudi Arabia mentioned possible sanctions in response to Czech president's anti-Islam remarks
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal | Foto: Reuters

Prague - During a regular meeting with Arab ambassadors, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek distanced himself from President Milos Zeman's earlier anti-Islam statements. “We do not agree that any religion is inherently connected to violence. That will never form part of our position,” Zaoralek said Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has threatened to impose economic sanctions against the Czech Republic in response to the president's controversial statements. Czech exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to CZK 7.2 billion (EUR 260 million) in 2013.

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“I have assured the ambassadors that we will always clearly differentiate between crimes against humanity and religious beliefs, which I believe are never inherently linked to any violence,” said Zaoralek, adding that the Czech Republic's objective is to hold a dialogue with Arab countries about these as well as other topics.

“I assured them that the Czech Republic would always be a country that supports religious tolerance and cooperation. This has been a stable part of Czech foreign policy. We are trying to have good relations with all the Arab world,” said the foreign minister.

President Zeman said during an Israel Independence Day event in Prague in late-May that xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism were “inherent to the very foundations of the ideology” of radical Islamist groups.

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Saudia Arabia's Foreign Ministry responded by summoning Czech ambassador Jiri Slavik.

Czech Human Rights Minister Jiri Dienstbier said that the president's remarks were “dumb” and could provoke militant Muslims. Chamber of Deputies speaker Petr Gazdik said that the statements could increase tensions.

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