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Thatcher First British Leader in Czechoslovakia in Half Century

September 16, 1990

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ British Premier Margaret Thatcher arrived Sunday to begin a three-day visit to celebrate the collapse of communism and discuss the merits of private enterprise.

Mrs. Thatcher, on a three-nation tour that also includes Hungary and Switzerland, is the first British leader to visit Czechoslovakia in more than 50 years.

She was greeted at Prague airport by Czechoslovak Premier Marian Calfa and Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier. She also stopped to chat with Alexander Dubcek, whose Prague Spring reforms in 1968 were crushed by Soviet tanks.

After receiving a military cannon salute, Mrs. Thatcher drove off to the center of the capital.

She was thronged on the 11th century Old Town Square by thousands of well- wishers, some chanting, ″Maggie, Maggie,″ or ″Hello, Maggie.″

She had scheduled several private meetings Sunday before talks with President Vaclav Havel on Monday.

″The visits to Czechoslovakia and Hungary are rather by way of celebration and encouragement for the future,″ said a British government spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity.

″Czechoslovakia has a particular flavor because the people now running the country were all dissidents and people that we did our best to encourage. We did our best to maintain contacts,″ he said.

A British ″privatization″ team arrived in Czechslovakia this month to help officials sell off dozens of state-owned enterprises.

The Thatcher government has privatized most of Britain’s former state-owned industries in the last decade, including its steel industry and British Airways.

Mrs. Thatcher also was to address the Czechoslovak parliament and hold talks with Dubeck, the head of the assembly.

She is to leave Tuesday for Hungary, which she last visited in 1984. Britain last year set up technical aid funds for Hungary and Poland.

Mrs. Thatcher and her husband, Denis, also plan two days of official engagements in Zurich and Bern in Switzerland.

Last week, French President Francois Mitterrand also visited Prague.

Both visits, Havel said, were intended to ″put the final full stop″ to controversy over the 1938 Munich treaty signed by France and Britain, which preceded Nazi leader Adolph Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The treaty recognized Hitler’s claims to the Sudetenland region of northern Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia was not represented at the treaty signing, and the country’s diplomats were arrested after being summoned to hear the results of the conference. The territory was returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945.

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