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Ex-General Becomes Czech Defense Minister, Sparking Concern

Mar. 19, 2013 - 11:38AM   |  
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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic nominated a retired four-star general Tuesday as the country’s new defense minister, a move that sparked concern among politicians who want civilian control over the military.

Vlastimil Picek, 56, served as military adviser to former Eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus from 2003 to 2007 and was the Czech army chief of staff between 2007-2012. Prime Minister Petr Necas has described him as an “impartial expert” who “meets all the requirements of a defense minister.”

But the nomination of a senior military figure to the country’s top civilian defense post has stirred controversy within Necas’ wobbly three-party coalition.

“I’m not enthusiastic about an officer becoming a minister. It’s very unusual in a civilized country,” Jan Vidim, head of the parliamentary defense committee, said Tuesday, appealing for strict civilian control over the military.

“I didn’t agree to this nomination,” said Karolina Peake, Picek’s predecessor. “I’m convinced that the head of the defense ministry should be a civilian, not a soldier,” she added.

The controversy could affect Necas’ center-right government, already weakened by a string of corruption scandals and its tough austerity policy. Critics also point to Picek’s membership of the communist party before the demise of the regime in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989.

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