400 ethnic Czechs march through Varnsdorf in yet another attempted pogrom on Romani residents
Varnsdorf has experienced yet another tense Saturday. At 10 AM a debate between the town leadership and local residents began in the local cinema. At 2 PM, a rally was held on the town square; both it and a subsequent march on the Sport residential hotel were properly announced and led by convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout and supported by extremists from the Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS). News server Romea.cz had correspondents on the scene who reported online during the course of the day.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
17:45 - Online reporting ends.
17:05 - The square is empty. Nothing is happening at the Sport residential hotel. Our correspondents report that it is totally calm in Varnsdorf. Police are just monitoring the small groups of neo-Nazis aimlessly wandering through the town.
16:47 - About 20 or 30 local residents are standing in front of the "Červený kostel" residential hotel and debating amongst themselves.
16:44 - Police spokesperson Jarmila Hrubešová says the march to the "Červený kostel" residential hotel was not announced and was illegal. "We will therefore call on the participants to disperse. We will take everyone who does not obey to the station," she told the Czech Press Agency. Police have not yet intervened.
16:26 - People are starting to slowly disperse. Half of the crowd, about 200 people, remain in front of the residential hotel, sitting and standing. The other half, who are extremists, are heading back to the square. Our correspondents say the situation is calm.
16:17 -The Catholic Church in Varnsdorf has officially distanced itself from the alleged acolyte who led the anti-Roma "religious" rally earlier.
16:09 - An older man is walking through the crowd doing his best to convince people to go home. The small group carrying the "Bohemia for the Czechs" banner is not leaving.
16:03 - Police have once again called on the mob to disperse, otherwise they will use force.
16:00 - The mob of ethnic Czechs is standing on the street and whistling loudly in front of the residential hotel. Miroslav Brož, spokesperson for the Hate is No Solution Initiative, says of the situation inside, "We are doing our best to keep the children occupied, they are all still drawing."
15:57 - The march has arrived at the "Červený kostel" residential hotel. Our correspondent inside reports that he is watching the march from the window.
15:53 - There is no one left at the police barricade on Žitavská street. The main mob has gone down Poštovní street and turned onto Revoluční street.
15:47 - The mob is turning from Národní street onto Tyršova street. The demonstrators' target is clear: The "Červený kostel" residential hotel on T. G. Masaryk street.
15:39 - About 50 people remain by the police barricade, but most are leaving, our correspondent reports.
15:35 - Our correspondent says it seems police have decided to permit the "religious" gathering to head toward the Sport residential hotel on the condition that the crowd will actually behave like a religious gathering, i.e., no one will yell anti-Roma or political slogans. However, the negotiating "pilgrims" did not wait for this final decision and the crowd turned around to move back down Žitavska street.
15:32 - The anti-conflict team is negotiating with the organizers of the "religious" assembly led by convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout and the "anonymous" acolyte of the Catholic Church.
15:27 - The anti-Roma march by ethnic Czechs has transformed itself into a religious assembly. One of the demonstrators is reportedly an acolyte of the Catholic Church, but he has refused to give his name.
15:25 - It is completely calm at the Sport residential hotel so far.
15:22 - News server Aktuálně.cz reports that police have given demonstrators an ultimatum. They must disperse, otherwise the riot police will intervene.
15:20 - The mob is singing the national anthem.
15:19 - Our correspondent's report has been confirmed by news server Deník.cz: "Representatives of the town hall have official ended the rally for inciting racial violence."
15:17 - People are sitting on the ground and smoking.
15:15 - The mob has halted at the police barricade. Lukáš Kohout tried negotiating with police officers, but failed. The mob of supposedly "decent" people is now chanting: "You're protecting the Gypsies." Our correspondent reports the march was halted because the mob of ethnic Czechs is inciting racial hatred.
15:09 - The mob first halted about 30-40 meters away from the police barricade, then started moving toward the police officers again.
15:06 - The police have positioned a barricade about 100 meters away from the Sport residential hotel. "There are about 30 riot police there waiting for the march to arrive," our correspondent reports from the scene.
15:01 - The mob has just turned into Žitavská street and is heading for the Sport residential hotel.
14:47 - The anti-Roma march has set off along its previously announced route. It should pass down Národní street, turn onto Žitavská street, and arrive at the Sport residential hotel. Our correspondent says there are about 400 people in the crowd, being led by about 50 neo-Nazis shouting slogans such as: "Bohemia for the Czechs", "Nothing but the nation", or "Radically, socially, nationally". Our correspondent has spotted DSSS Vice-Chair Petr Kotáb among the neo-Nazis.
14:40 - Mayor of Varnsdorf Martin Louka has spoken at the podium. Our correspondent reports that he said he had come to support people on the square, but stated that he fundamentally does not support the march that is supposed to follow the rally. Convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout then thanked extremists from the DSSS for their support, naming in particular party chair Tomáš Vandas.
14:36 - Meanwhile, at the nearby "Červeny kostel" residential hotel, the Hate is No Solution initiative is doing its best to entertain the Romani children living there. "We bought toys, coloring books, pastels, paints and now we are playing with the children. We want to distract them from what is happening outside," Miroslav Brož, spokesperson for the initiative, told news server Romea.cz. Another intiative team is doing similar activities with the children living at the Sport residential hotel.
14:33 - The ethnic Czechs were about to start marching when people suddenly started calling for the Mayor of Varnsdorf to come to the podium. Our correspondent says he is standing in the crowd.
14:32 -Convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout has called on the people standing on the square to commit civil disobedience. He then read aloud the demands some citizens are making of the town councilors.
14:26 - Demonstrators are carrying a banner reading "Nečas has no time for us." The crowd is chanting "Resign, resign" in the direction of the town representatives.
14:24 - The organizers are calling on the demonstrators to immediately report the presence of any radicals to the police as the protest is supposed to be a local one, not a radical one.
14:22 - Lukáš Kohout is at the microphone. The entire assembly has so far been conducted in the spirit of a protest against the local administration, the media, and the police.
14:18 - Someone at the microphone is criticizing Czech President Václav Klaus, who has said he is for harsh police intervention against the ongoing unrest. A recording of the song "Mr President" by Jarek Nohavice has been played. People are jingling their keys.
14:16 - The assembly on the town square began with the singing of the Czech national anthem.
14:15 - Half an hour before the announced start time of the demonstration, police officers detained 14 men at the local police station sporting tattoos usually favored by Brno football rowdies. "We arrested nine of them at the train station and others around town on suspicion of various misdemeanors. Some had no identification. We found knives on others," police spokesperson Jarmila Hrubešová said.
14:10 - A large banner in the crowd reads: "Don't beat us up, this is our home. We want to live here in peace. Crime has risen 200 %." Another banner reads: "The media lie."
14:00 - A man is at the microphone saying everyone is waiting for the town representatives invited by the organizers to arrive. Our correspondent says there are about 200 people on the square. They are signing a petition demanding an investigation into the police intervention last Saturday, condemning the media for biased reporting, suggesting the regulation of rents paid for through welfare benefits, and calling on legislators to introduce felony punishments for legal representatives of juvenile delinquents.
13:51 - About 70 people are on the square. One small group is wearing t-shirts with a message for police: "You live off of our taxes and yet you beat us up."
13:20 - Sound equipment is being set up on the square. Like last week, a covered pickup truck will serve as a podium. There are several members of the Czech Police anti-conflict team present.
13:02 - A helicopter is circling over Varnsdorf once more. Our correspondent has seen a large number of riot police in Palacké street near the Sport residential hotel, including female officers.
12:34 - Speaking at a conference of Civic Democratic (ODS) mayors in Brno today, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said one of the causes of today's problems in the Šluknov district, where there is great tension in relations between the "white" majority and the Romani residents, is, in his view, the fact that social welfare policy has been too generous in the past. For many people it is still more advantageous to draw welfare than to work legally, the PM said.
12:34 - The debate at the Panorama cinema in Varnsdorf has ended. People are dispersing. Our correspondents report that people are agreeing to meet on the square at 2 PM. Small groups of neo-Nazis are already moving around the town.
12:14 - A Romani man aged about 40 says that the gaming rooms in town should be shut down and action should be taken against those who have built their businesses on exploiting the poor, whom he identified as the municipality itself and real estate agents. People applaud his remarks.
12:05 - News server Aktuálně.cz reports that the Vice-Mayor of Varnsdorf has made the following remark about the Roma: "Pray they don't keep on reproducing so much."
11:57 - Suggestions have been made for the town to arrange for Romani children to spend their free time more meaningfully. "They should do their homework, have hobbies, and also learn basic hygiene," one woman said.
11:49 - Mayor of Varnsdorf Martin Louka says police handled 16 claims of serious felony offenses during the past month. "Of those, 10 were solved and four turned out to have been false allegations," news server iDNES.cz quotes Louka as saying.
11:37 - Czech MP Jaroslav Foldyna (ČSSD) spoke during the debate. Our correspondent reports that Foldyna said he wants to "sort out" the Roma and move them beyond the town limits into "holobyty" (the lowest possible category of housing still fit for habitation). The crowd applauded thunderously. He then asked for 60 days of calm in order to address the situation and attacked Czech PM Nečas, saying he is not a man. However, his populist declarations did not, in the end, win the approval of the crowd of ethnic Czechs, who whistled him down.
11:30 - A stormy debate is taking place among the citizens in the Panorama cinema. Martin Šimáček, director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, is moderating. The ethnic Czechs are all blaming the mayor, the national government and the police for "doing nothing"; they are also verbally attacking local Romani residents and asking Šimáček to move the Roma to Prague. There are several Romani people also present. When a Romani woman wanted to speak, the crowd of ethnic Czechs started shouting at her and wouldn't let her finish speaking. The crowd shouted vulgar insults at her and booed her.
9:44 - The Czech Press Agency reports that police are deploying about 300 men today and promising to respond to any racist offenses with harsh countermeasures.
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