Czech mayor blames police tactics in clash with neo-Nazi protesters

July 2, 2013 at 12:04 AM
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CESKE BUDEJOVICE, Czech Republic, July 2 (UPI) -- The mayor of a Czech Republic city says police reacted too slowly to head off weekend clashes between right-wing extremists and Roma residents.

Mayor Juraj Thoma of the south Bohemia city of Ceske Budejovice said the Saturday street battles in which 30 people were arrested and 10 treated for minor injuries could have been prevented if police had cut off a group of extremists who separated from a permitted event in the city center and marched into a Roma-dominated housing project.

When asked Sunday by Czech Radio why police let the right-wing protesters reach a neighborhood where Roma were holding a peaceful assembly of their own, Thoma said it was a choice they made over which he had no control.

"I told the police they had to pick up the protesters long before they reached the settlement," he said. "But this is a question for the police, why they chose this tactic."

The clashes came after several hundred right-wing demonstrators gathered in the city's Ottokar II Square Saturday night chanting racist slogans. A group of them then left the square and headed to the Maj settlement on the outskirts of the city, home to 22,000 Roma residents, the broadcaster reported.

After the marchers reached the site, police deployed tear gas and smoke grenades to prevent them from directly engaging with the residents, who were holding their own sanctioned assembly to denounce what they called official indifference following a racially motivated fight between five women at a playground, the broadcaster said.

The clashes happened in a narrow street between prefabricated houses and cars, with extremists throwing Molotov cocktails, stones and broken glass. Trash containers were overturned and some were burned while some cars were also damaged.

About 100 riot police, together with dogs and an anti-conflict team, tried to dissuade the attackers.

The mayor said it was obvious the right-wing protesters were looking for trouble long before they reached the Maj settlement.

"I said yesterday that, given that the marching crowd shouted 'Heil Hitler,' were raising their right hands and shouting Nazi slogans, police should have picked them up in the city center.

"Police chose this method. They decided to do it primarily to prevent the extreme right-wing guerrillas from clashing in direct physical conflict with the Roma."

Despite the weekend's hostilities, Thoma said the clashes were an isolated event sparked by out-of-town extremists who came to the city from across the country after a call was sent out through social media.

"They boasted on social networks to come to Czech Budejovice and fight with 'the cops and gypsies,'" he said. "They literally described it that way on Facebook. The whole event was triggered primarily by people who came from outside and who just came to Ceske Budejovice to fight."

Roma residents, however, blamed the city for not addressing the problems of the sometimes violent discrimination aimed at them.

"When everyone has scattered, next week the threats, blackmail, theft and assault will start again," one unidentified Roma resident told Czech Radio. "Every day. Our children cannot play on the playground. Unfortunately, our council and our city does not do anything about it."

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