EU urges Canada to allow Czechs visa-free travel

Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:25am EDT
 
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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Union urged Canada Wednesday to restore visa-free travel for Czech visitors, removed by Ottawa after hundreds of Roma from the central European country sought asylum.

Prague sought the support of other EU member states for its efforts to have the decision reversed after Canada reinstated its visa requirement Tuesday.

"The (European) Commission regrets that Canada has reintroduced its visa requirement," Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's executive arm, told the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg.

"I expect this measure to be temporary ... in cooperation with the Czech government we will consult the Canadian authorities in order to get more information on the reasons behind their decision and we will make all necessary efforts to restore visa-free travel."

The Roma asylum seekers say they have been discriminated against by the majority ethnic Czech population, a view backed by human rights agencies.

The visa requirement for the Czech Republic had been lifted in 2007 and the number of refugee claims rose after that.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Tuesday Prague would recall its ambassador to Canada for consultations and introduce visas for Canadian diplomats and civil servants.

The Czech Republic alone cannot impose visas on ordinary Canadians because it must respect the policy of the EU, which has a non-visa arrangement with Canada.

Barroso said the European Commission and Czech officials had discussed the matter in Brussels Tuesday.

(Reporting by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Angus MacSwan)