About 500 people attempted to protest the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the square in front of Prague Castle but were turned back by police.
Many in the crowd had been in an earlier rally at Kampa Park, near a palace where Xi Jinping met with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, ČSSD).
The event had been announced on Facebook and organizers claimed to have received permission, but all access to the Castle was blocked by riot police.
It was described on Facebook as “a peaceful rally in defense of democracy and human rights in the Czech Republic, China, Tibet and Taiwan on the occasion of the visit of the Chinese president.”
The crowd was stopped at a narrow part of Loretánská Street just before it reached Hradčanské náměstí.
Several politicians attempted to negotiate with the police but made no headway. TOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek was among those at the front of the crowd of people waving Tibetan and Taiwanese flags and carrying pictures of former Czech president Václav Havel with the Dalia Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.
Kalousek took a Tibetan flag from one of the rally goers and tried to get past the police line with it, but was not successful. The opposition party chairman was not even allowed to go near the Castle on his own to wave the flag. Member of European Parliament Jaromír Štětina (TOP 09) also could not get through.
TOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek. Photo: Raymond JohnstonTOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Kalousek addressed the crowd, saying they had a right to go to the square. The crowd chanted back that they had the right.
Other politicians to make it to the front of the crowd included former environment minister Martin Bursík, former human rights minister Michael Kocáb and former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
The appearance of Schwarzenberg caused the crowd to chant “Karel to the Castle.” He addressed the crowd with a loudspeaker, but only those close to the front could hear due to helicopter noise.
“We protest against a regime that suppresses minorities, executes people, and sends countless people into camps and prisons,” he said. “This is not about hostility to China, but hostility to tyranny,” he said.
He was also critical of President Xi Jinping having been invited to Lány, the presidential residence which was also home to Havel and First Republic president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He called it “shameful theater.”
While the crowd waited to see if the police would let them through they took up a number of chants including “Long live Havel,” “This isn’t Beijing,” “We don’t want a panda,” “We break with Miloš,”and “Freedom for Tibet.”
The most popular chant was “Milos to the trash can,” which rhymes in Czech.
The crowd also rang their keys, reminiscent of the Velvet Revolution, and sang the national anthem, “Kde domov můj.”
The organizers then said that it was a peaceful protest and there was no sense in causing a conflict with the police. Since they could not erect a podium to have speeches and play music, the crowd should move elsewhere.
Martin Bursík at Loretánská Street. Photo: Raymond JohnstonMartin Bursík at Loretánská Street. Photo: Raymond Johnston
Most of the protesters then went to Park Maxe van der Stoela in Prague 6, where Bursík and Kocáb were finally able to address the crowd with amplification. They called for the Czech Republic not to weaken its strong human rights record.
Kocáb said that Zeman had moved away from the ideals of the Velvet Revolution and behaved toward Russia and China in a humiliating manner.
Bursík commented on the violation of people’s civil rights by the police in favor of the visiting leader of totalitarian country. He called for a “democratic Czech Republic and a democratic China.”
Other speakers included National Gallery director Jiří Fajt, Prague 6 Mayor Ondřej Kolář (TOP 09), and Ivan Havel and his wife, Dagmar, the brother and sister-in-law of former president Václav Havel.