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Czech riot police intervene against violent anti-COVID measure demonstrators

19.10.2020 9:26
Prague, Czech Republic, 18 October 2020, right-wing extremists assault police officers after a protest by people opposed to the Government's anti-COVID measures. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Prague, Czech Republic, 18 October 2020, right-wing extremists assault police officers after a protest by people opposed to the Government's anti-COVID measures. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The demonstration against the Czech Government's anti-pandemic measures that was held on Prague's Old Town Square yesterday devolved into street fighting with police after the event was officially brought to an end. Some right-wing extremists and football fans who were protesting assaulted police officers.

Dozens of people on the scene did not obey the instruction to leave the square and filmed the police intervention up close using their mobile phones. The officers used truncheons and water cannon and arrested some demonstrators.

Emergency medical responders treated nine people who were injured. According to estimates from City Hall, roughly 2 000 people attended the protest even though the number permitted should not have exceed 500.

Most demonstrators were not wearing face masks yesterday. "Police officers did not intervene until the law was violated by some parties. Violations of the Czech Government decree were properly documented and will be delivered to the appropriate administrative body that resolves such matters," Czech Police President Jan Švejdar tweeted.

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The most dramatic scuffles lasted for roughly one hour. Once the demonstration ended, the hooligans first began to launch projectiles and the square was veiled in smoke from smoke bombs.

The first conflict was begun by the radicals, when one of them assaulted a policewoman as she was speaking on a mobile phone by kicking her from behind. He then proceeded to attack the four officers wearing light uniforms and reflective vests who had pushed the crowd to the other side of a cordon of riot police at the mouth of Kaprova Street, which would have afforded the most direct route to the headquarters of the Office of the Government at the Strakov Academy.

The extremists then began throwing bottles, firecrackers and garbage cans at the officers. Those involved in pushing the crowd were canine units, mounted police, riot units and the water cannon unit, which pushed most of the rioters toward the astronomical clock on the Old Town Square.

Police arrested the most active participants in the clashes on the spot, including those who had either resisted or directly attacked police horses and vehicles. Even so, several hundred people remained on the square despite police instructing them to leave.

The demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Fuck Prymula" [the Czech Health Minister], "Prymula to the gas chambers", "You guys are lame" or the English-language acronym "ACAB" (All Cops Are Bastards). Some right-wing extremists then chanted slogans known from ultra-right demonstrations such as "Nothing but the nation" ("Nic než národ") and "Bohemia for the Czechs" ("Čechy Čechům").

A correspondent for news server Romea.cz reported that some demonstrators were giving the Nazi salute. Emergency medical responders had to transport five people to the hospital, three of whom suffered moderately severe injuries.

A participant in a demonstration against the Government's anti-pandemic measures gives the Nazi salute (18 October 2020). (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Emergency medical services tweeted that their response had involved treating people for drunkenness, head injuries, lacerations, and shortness of breath caused by tear gas. Responders on the scene activated their plan for addressing traumatic injuries.

Four teams of emergency medical responders aided the injured and there was also a vehicle for exceptional situations at the scene, staffed by a doctor. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) said he was shocked at how ruthless and selfish some members of the public could be who are not following the Government's anti-COVID decrees and endangering themselves and others.

The PM thanked the police and said he was proud of their highly professional approach to the event. Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) sent an SMS to the Czech News Agency that said "Our concerns that organized football hooligans would abuse the announced demonstration were confirmed. The demonstration itself violated the Government decree, and for that reason the organizer was instructed to end it, which he did after some time."

Those attending the demonstration were criticized by Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula (for ANO). According to a statement he made to news server iDNES.cz, the demonstration will probably cause hundreds more unnecessary COVID-19 infections.

"When I saw what was going on there, I consider it to be almost a show of contempt for the work of the health care personnel who are on the front line risking infection themselves to minimize this disease and its spread," the news server quoted the Health Minister as saying. Before the demonstration even began, police detained as many as 50 people who were carrying objects that could have been used to cause injuries, according to police tweets.

The police performed dozens of checks at the location of the demonstration before its scheduled start at 14:00. They tweeted that officers confiscated brass knuckles, collapsible truncheons, fireworks and a gun.

The law on the right to assembly bans participants from bringing explosives, firearms, fireworks or other objects to an assembly that could be used to harm the health of others. The demonstration was organized by a group called the "Movement of Civic Dissatisfaction" (Hnutí občanské nespokojenosti - HON, an acronym meaning "The Hunt").

The group originally counted on the program of the event lasting two hours, but shut it down after one hour. Far more than the permitted 500 protesters arrived on the scene, most of whom were not wearing face masks.

According to current regulations, the demonstrators were meant to have been divided into groups of 20 that stayed two meters apart from each other. Instead, the square was packed full of people.

In Bratislava, the capital of neighboring Slovakia, several hundred football fans and followers of the ultra-right assembled on Saturday in front of the Office of the Slovak Government. The radicals threw bottles and rocks at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Demonstrace, Extremism, Police



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