Czech President condemns anti-Roma marches by neo-Nazis
Czech President Miloš Zeman has condemned the anti-Roma demonstrations and marches through Czech towns that took place on Saturday, 24 August. Speaking on the program "Conversations from Lány", which is broadcast by Czech Radio's Radiožurnál station, Zeman said that in order to improve the situation of socially vulnerable Romani people there is a need to break down what he termed the "white mafia" through which welfare is being abused and to support employment through greater investment.
Zeman said those participating in Saturday's marches were neo-Nazi street fighters of the sort he labeled as one of the country's "islands of negative deviance" during his inaugural speech in March. He reminded listeners that in June, during the commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the destruction of Lidice, he had said that he heard the Nazi cry "Juden raus!" behind the slogan frequently shouted at anti-Roma demonstrations, "Bohemia for the Czechs!"
Zeman said that welfare payments such as the housing contributions received from the state by [low-income] Romani people are being cashed by a "white mafia" who are leasing apartments to Romani tenants at inflated prices. "We will start with concrete actions to break up these white mafias, Romani people should pay proportionate rents, not CZK 9 000 for a studio apartment, " the president said, adding that then it would be possible to limit the housing contribution instead of canceling it altogether.
Zeman also said that while he could have attended a protest against neo-Nazis on Saturday, he believed it would much more useful to create new jobs than to make such a symbolic gesture. About 1 000 people participated in counter-protests held against intolerance and racism in some towns on Saturday.
"Invest more, consume less. Only investment - rational investment, of course - will create new jobs," the president reiterated.
Roughly 1 500 neo-Nazis and their sympathizers attended anti-Roma demonstrations and marches in eight towns throughout the Czech Republic. Police arrested a total of 101 people at events in České Budějovice, Duchcov (Teplice district), Ostrava and Plzeň; a total of 25 demonstrators and police officers were injured during violence in Ostrava.
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