Prague (AFP) – Tens of thousands of Czechs used a public holiday on Friday to demonstrate in the capital against the pro-Western government and its support for Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.
The rally came after two others in Wenceslas Square in central Prague and was smaller than the 70,000 who gathered for the same reasons on September 3, according to police estimates.
Under the slogan “Czech Republic First,” a reference to the nationalist program of former US President Donald Trump, the protest united the far right with the far left and various fringe groups. Its organizers are known for their pro-Russian views and opposition to COVID-19 vaccines.
With soaring energy, food and housing prices hitting the country, protesters demanded the resignation of the coalition government led by conservative Prime Minister Peter Fiala.
“Quit!” They chanted and waved national flags.
Demonstrators have repeatedly denounced the government for its support of Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia, and opposed Czech membership in the European Union, NATO and other international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
“Russia is not our enemy,” said one of the speakers, “a war-mongering government is the enemy.”
A smaller rally was held in the country’s second largest city, Brno.
The government rejected those demands.
“We know who our friend is and who is bleeding for our freedom,” Interior Minister Vit Rakosan wrote on Twitter. “And we also know who our enemy is.”
The Czech Republic is a staunch supporter of Ukraine, donating heavy weapons to the Ukrainian army and granting some 450,000 entry visas to Ukrainian refugees that give them access to health care, financial assistance, work permits and other benefits.
Fiala and several ministers plan to travel to Kyiv on Monday for a joint meeting of the Czech and Ukrainian governments.
“We strongly support the justified fight of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression,” Fiala said on Saturday.
Although the country’s populist opposition made some gains in last month’s municipal elections, the five ruling coalition parties largely won the vote earlier this month for a third of parliament’s upper house seats.