Saturday, December 9, 2023

Tens of thousands in Prague protest anti-Russian sanctions

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have again jammed the central square of Prague to decry rampant inflation amid the Czechia government’s support for anti-Russia sanctions and aid packages to Ukraine.

Taking advantage of a national holiday to gather on Friday, the protestors demanded the resignation of their pro-Western government. The latest demonstration follows two similar protests last month, including one that reportedly attracted an estimated 70,000 people.

Friday’s crowd in Wenceslas Square demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Fiala and the end to Czechia’s participation in sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, which have contributed to soaring energy and food prices. Protestors chanted “resign, resign” while waving Czechian national flags.

Russia’s not our enemy, the government of warmongers is our enemy,” the Associated Press cited one speaker at the rally as saying. A group named Czech Republic First, which has organized the protests, opposes NATO and has called for the country to be militarily neutral.

This is a new national revival, and its goal is for the Czech Republic to be independent,” Reuters quoted organizer Ladislav Vrabel as saying. “When I see a full square, no one can stop this.”

Fiala’s government has shrugged off the protestors, calling them “pro-Russian” and accusing their organizers of listening to Russian disinformation campaigns. Czechia joined NATO in March 1999, just days before the US-led bloc attacked Yugoslavia, and became a member of the EU in 2004.

“We know who our friends are and who is bleeding for our freedom,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said on Friday in a Twitter post. “And we also know who our foes are, and we will not let them steal our patriotism.”

Czechia has been hit particularly hard by the European energy crisis, at least partly because of its historic reliance on Russian natural gas. Households in the country are reportedly incurring the second-highest electricity prices in the EU, behind only Estonia. Czechia’s inflation rate soared to 18% in September.

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