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Czech Republic: Yet another arson attack on a building with Romani tenants

Aš, 26.2.2012 20:12, (ROMEA)
The attack took place on Nádražní street in Aš. (Collage:  Romea.cz, Czech Press Agency, Google)

Two masked, unidentified men threw Molotov cocktails at a residential hotel in the Czech town of Aš, home to two Romani families as well as non-Romani residents. One bottle struck a window and another struck the main door. Residents put the fire out themselves. Police are investigating the case as one of racially motivated reckless endangerment. No one was physically injured. Police have summoned reinforcements to Aš from Cheb to monitor the situation for the next few days.

The attack has been condemned by Czech Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake (Public Affairs - VV). Mayor of Aš Dalibor Blažek said the residential hotel houses two Romani families and non-Romani workers. For the time being it is not clear how many people were put at risk.

"The perpetrators were two men who were thin and about 180 cm tall. Police are asking any witnesses of this incident to call 158," police spokesperson Pavel Valenta said in a public statement. The attack took place at 2:30 AM in Nádražní street. The assailants then fled in the direction of Palackého street.

The Molotov cocktails damaged the plaster and set fire to the window of an apartment where people were sleeping. The main door to the building also caught fire, but residents put both fires out. "The fire didn't get in because the windows are double-paned and the bottle made it through the first pane only," Valenta told news server iDNES.cz.

The Czech Press Agency has reported that firefighters intervened at the scene. The precise number of Molotov cocktails used in the attack was not given by the police spokesperson.

"I was watching television. When I turned it off, I head a big crash, so I went to see what was going on. Flames were lashing out of the next window over," Bernard Hlaváč, one of the residents, told a reporter for Mf DNES. "When I ran outside I didn't see anyone," Hlaváč said, adding that a neighbor who was returning home at that time noticed two men whose faces were covered running away from the residential hotel.

Police are now searching for the assailants. The police spokesperson said local patrols in Aš have been reinforced with police officers from the department in Cheb and that police have no new information yet.

"It's calm at the scene, police vehicles are patrolling the residential hotel, which is a freestanding building near the train station. No one is loitering around the residence, the street is totally empty. The Romani people living there are just fending off media photographers now," a witness at the scene told the Czech Press Agency. One window on the building has been burned and its exterior pane is broken. The main door is also smoke-damaged.

Violence is not a legitimate way to express dissatisfaction and just produces unhappiness - those were some of the words used by Czech Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake in response to the incident today. "The Molotov cocktails thrown at the residential hotel in Aš make me very concerned about this sinister dissemination of aggression and intolerance," the Mediafax agency quoted Peake as saying.

Mayor Blažek said the residential hotel is currently neither 100 % Romani-occupied nor problematic in any way. "Workers live there, as do two Romani families who have never had any problems, never even had any idea of racism," he told the Czech Press Agency. He suspects the attack might have been motivated by revenge, because troublemakers, whom he says were not Romani, did live at the residential hotel previously and had to move out. He also said it was possible that news of the incidents in Šluknov district had influenced whoever did this. "Just seeing an unfamiliar group of Romani people is enough to make everyone nervous. We are doing our best to do everything we can to make sure the situation doesn't end up like in the north of Bohemia. We don't want any of those Workers' Parties marching here, because it's really not like that here, and that's why I greatly regret this," he added.

The mayor could not remember any similar incidents in the town. "Not even a pub brawl between Romani people and white people," he added. Blažek believes that if the crime was racially motivated, it could not have been committed by residents of Aš, but by people from elsewhere.

Blažek said various Romani families have come and gone from the building, which once had many more Romani tenants than it now does. The town also monitors the residential hotels to make sure landlords don't exploit their tenants. "We visited that same building with the construction authority and the public hygienist to monitor it and the original owner was fined, so some significant repairs had to be done," he said.

Several assaults on Romani families' homes have taken place in the Czech Republic in recent years. The most famous remains the case from April 2009, when four right-wing extremists threw three Molotov cocktails into a small house in Vítkov (Opava district). Three people were injured during the subsequent blaze. A girl who was not yet two years old was harmed the most seriously. In March 2011 the perpetrators were sentenced to either 20 or 22 years in prison. The verdict was upheld last December by the Czech Supreme Court.

In March 2010, a Molotov cocktail attack was committed on the home of a Romani family in the Ostrava settlement of Bedřiška. No one was injured and the police investigation found the motivation to have been a dispute between neighbors, not racism.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Czech Press Agency, iDNES.cz, Tn.cz, Rozhlas.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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