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Mrs. Bush Tours Czech Capital

November 21, 2002

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ Laura Bush visited a museum devastated by last summer’s catastrophic floods in a show of solidarity Thursday with a city still suffering from the impact of the disaster.

The first lady’s tour of the Czech capital’s Kampa Museum included photographs of the city’s floods together with post-Sept. 11 pictures of New York City _ figuratively uniting the cities in illustrations of devastation.

``What I hope both of these (sets of photographs) show is the solidarity we have as human beings ... when we suffer because of something other people do or because of a natural disaster,″ Mrs. Bush said.

The tour was part of a program for wives of world leaders taking part in NATO’s historic summit, which led to the alliance’s expansion to include seven eastern European and Baltic countries for a total of 26 nations.

The summit brought together leaders from alliance member countries and others hoping to join. For spouses of the leaders, the grand get-together has meant taking center stage in a glittering array of state dinners, museum exhibitions and musical performances.

Many of the summit spouses spent the morning in Prague’s Strahov Monastery, a cloister founded in 1140 that boasts one of the country’s most valuable collections of Czech literature.

After a tour of the library and a picture gallery, the first wives sang spirituals together with a quintet performing music dating to the Middle Ages.

The wife of Czech President Vaclav Havel, Dagmar Havlova, later invited the women to Lany chateau for a sumptuous lunch featuring Czech specialties including duck, dumplings and sauerkraut.

Though she assured her guests the food would be spectacular, the former movie actress dressed in a slim white suit cautioned them not to eat such standard Czech fare daily because it would make them fat.

``You can’t eat it all the time,″ she said, touching off warm laughter and conversation.

Iceland’s first lady, Astridur Thorarensen, and Mrs. Bush, seated next to each other, immediately began chatting as if they had known each other for years. It was their first meeting.

The other first ladies in attendance were Turkey’s Semra Sezer, Poland’s Jolanta Kwasniewski, Canada’s Aline Chretien, Spain’s Ana Botella, Greece’s Daphne Simitis, Norway’s Bjorg Bondevik; Portugal’s Margarida Durao Barroso, and Denmark’s Anne-Mette Rasmussen.

The women were seated at an oval table beneath a massive chandelier that made the Czech crystal in the chateau’s ``Yellow Room″ gleam with reflected light. Havlova’s two dogs, Sugar and Madla, also scampered into the room and could be heard from behind the closed dining room doors, barking excitedly.

Havlova gave her guests Czech crystal glasses and a carafe, together with a bottle of Becherovka, a typical Czech herb liqueur.

Mrs. Bush, who wore a gray double-breasted suit, took time at her stops during the day to speak with Czech journalists, expressing her joy at having returned to the central European country for the second time this year.

But she grew serious at times during her visit to the Kampa Museum, which still bore the water marks from the worst flooding to hit this country in nearly two centuries.

She paused twice to look at the Vltava River, whose sudden rise last summer caused so much damage and despair. She stared for a moment each time, then moved on.

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