Czech Police use tear gas, arrest 57, mostly counter-protesters of neo-Nazi march in Brno
The Czech News Agency reports that approximately 1 500 people gathered in Brno today to block a march by supporters of the Workers' Youth and Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS) called "Europe, Rise Up" (Evropo povstaň). Conveners of the blockade say the Workers' Youth is evidently linked to neo-Nazi circles.
Participants in the blockade carried banners and signs with antifascist slogans as well as depictions of the Indian leader Gandhi, who embodies the idea of passive resistance. Roughly 200 right-wing radicals gathered in Brno today at a separate location.
The right-wing extremists' event, which organizers had predicted an attendance of 500 for, began at 14:00. A tent was set up in the middle of the square.
DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas appeared and spoke of "hordes" of immigrants flooding Europe who he said were burning down shops and harming native populations. In his view, Europe must defend itself against immigrants.
Vandas said it is necessary to extend the border of Europe into the Mediterranean Sea and to patrol it with military naval vessels that would take any refugees found at sea back to Africa. He emphasized that problems with immigrants in the Czech Republic are so far only stealthily manifesting themselves in the form of disputes about wearing Muslim head scarves or foreign firms buying up land.
Dozens of uniformed police officers and plainclothes detectives were on the square where the neo-Nazi gathering began. The right-wing extremists then marched through the city.
"We want to prevent this march in a non-violent way, even though we are aware that by so doing we might be committing a misdemeanor," Gaby Khazalová told journalists on behalf of those who organized the blockade. Participants said they planned to either sit or stand in the way of the neo-Nazi march.
According to activist Václav Pecl, no one is denying the Workers' Youth supporters their right to assemble and express their opinions. He does, however, see a problem in their marching through the city.
"This is a march that is intended as a show of force, to terrorize," Pecl said. Several local politicians also turned out to support the blockade.
"This is a shameless provocation - at a time when we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, some are holding an event that makes a direct reference to the slogans that Hitler used during the 1930s to get into power," said Deputy Mayor Martin Ander (Green Party). The blockade was also attended by the Mayor of the Brno-střed Municipal Department, Martin Landa (Living in Brno - Žít Brno).
Support for today's blockade was expressed by many figures, such as the former Vice-Chair of the Czech Constitutional Court Eliška Wagnerová, Czech Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Jiří Dienstbier, the Rector of Masaryk University, Mikuláš Bek, artists and politicians. The following is a blow-by-blow timeline of key moments the course of today's events.
18:00 - Leoš Tržil, the South Moravian Regional Police Director, said at a police briefing that 57 people were arrested during the police intervention in Brno today. He evaluated the police action as "very good". Overall around 600 officers participated, two of whom were lightly injured. He had no information about whether demonstrators had been injured. Organizers of the blockade have posted to Facebook that the police intervention was disproportionate. They report that several people were lightly injured and that officers arrested 44 Brno residents who were blocking the neo-Nazis. "When the mounted officers forced the non-violent blockade to retreat, they did so without sufficient advance warning and caused injuries to several people. Their intervention against the non-violent blockade was disproportionate," blockade organizers posted.
17:30 - Everything is calm in Brno. The marchers have dispersed.
17:10 - The Czech News Agency reports that many people have suffered bruises during a clash with police. After the police intervention, a much-reduced number of Workers' Youth marchers succeeded in returning to the originally planned route.
17:00 - A report has been tweeted that police have arrested 44 people in Brno and used rubber bullets.
16:40 - The Czech News Agency reports that organizers of the blockade have instructed people to regroup and that hundreds of people have repeatedly attempted to stop the march at various points. Riot police, however, have always stood in their way. Some officers used a public bus as a barricade at one point. Ultimately about 150 people succeeded in stopping the march again at the corner of Koliště and Lidická Streets. Seated counter-protesters were gradually dragged away by police officers. Hundreds more people are still waiting at other points along the march route. A police officer used pepper spray on a blockade participant near the Janáček Theater.
16:30 - An attempt to stop the Workers' Youth march at Moravského náměstí has ended with a harsh scuffle between participants in the blockade and police. Czech Television reports that police have used tear gas.
16:20 - "Both groups are standing face to face near Moravského náměstí. The blockaders are doing their best to get the neo-Nazis to turn around and go back where they came from. They don't want to let them march down Česká Street to Náměstí Svobody. We can again hear loud shouting, the entire action is being monitored by a police helicopter," a correspondent for news server Aktuálně.cz reports from the scene.
16:00 - According to the online reporting of news server Aktuálně.cz live from Brno, the neo-Nazi march has had to change its planned route, as opponents successfully blockaded the access roads to Malinovského náměstí. Police have deployed hundreds of riot cops, a helicopter, and mounted officers to keep the two camps separated. A Czech Television reporter says some of the blockaders now want to stop the march at Koliště Street after it deviated from the planned route, and officers are doing their best to get the counter-protesters to leave. The assembly on Malinovského náměstí is chanting "Nazis Out of Brno!" ("Náckové ven z Brna!")
15:00 - The neo-Nazi march set out shortly before 15:00. Reporters estimate that between 200 and 300 of them gathered on the square. Around 1 500 counter-protesters assembled in the center of Brno.
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