Czech riot police keep anti-immigrant, ultra-right demonstrators separate from counter-protesters in Brno
Police riot units had to separate the participants of two demonstrations in Brno from each other today, one against the reception of immigrants to the Czech Republic, the other expressing solidarity with refugees. Both events took place at the same place and time just a few hundred meters away from each other.
Police said approximately 700 people participated in the demonstration against refugees, while 500 people turned out to support the opposing opinion who later began to disperse, with only around 100 people remaining on that side at around 19:00. At approximately 19:30 participants in the event against immigrants also began to head for the train station and police could once again reopen the busy intersection of Rašínova and Joštova Streets.
According to media reports, however, the demonstrations were equivalently numerous, with roughly 400 people attending each. The situation became the most dramatic after 18:00, when people supporting aid for refugees left the park in a procession heading for the Church of St. Tomáš, where another anti-immigrant event was being held.
That event was convened by the radical Workers' Youth group, which is connected with the ultra-right Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS). Among the demonstrators against refugees there was Vlastimil Pechanec, previously convicted of the racially motivated murder of a Romani man, who is now out on parole.
At a critical moment the two sides were only about 15 meters away from each other. Demonstrators on the one side shouted "Bohemia for the Czechs" and "We don't want refugees here", while their opponents shouted "Nazis out of Brno, this is not your home" and "Fascists, get a job".
At that moment the sides were separated by riot police. First a tram stopped in between the quarelling groups, and then about 10 police vehicles filled the space.
After about 15 minutes, the Workers' Youth radicals pulled back to a nearby fountain, where Tomáš Vandas, chair of the DSSS, gave a speech against aid for refugees in which he spoke of the current wave as "vermin flooding Europe" and demanded a referendum on the issue of the Czech Republic leaving the EU. Those opposed to the Workers' Youth stood within sight of the speech-making and contact between the two groups was prevent by the rampart of police vehicles.
The Czech News Agency reported that police detained an estimate five people from either side and placed them in the vehicles. In one case a person was detained because his or her face was covered.
When police took one detainee away from the crowd expressing solidarity with refugees, a small scuffle broke out and the officers used force. Part of the counter-protest against xenophobia and in support of immigrants involved erecting a small tent city depicting a refugee camp.
Organizers of the counter-protest said the anti-refugee demonstration was the second recently convened by right-wing extremists attempting to exploit the negative emotions of a part of the public against immigrants. "This is a complicated matter, but it cannot be resolved on the street, and especially not with neo-Nazis," said organizer Václav Pecl.
Counter-protesters held banners reading, for example, "Our forefather Čech was also an immigrant" and "Let's trade the Nazis for some refugees". Pecl said he was satisfied with the outcome of the counter-protest, even though some participants had not respected the agreement made with police and headed in the direction of the Workers' Youth assembly.
"We couldn't physically prevent them. Even though they crossed the line, they did not attack anyone, they just chanted slogans. In that respect the peacefulness of the event was successful," Pecl said.
More than 4000 people on the Facebook social networking site said they would be participating in the Workers' Youth event, which began at 18:00 today. Organizers gave the protest the name of "Let's defend ourselves! No immigration quotas, no genocide of Europe!"
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