An estimated 100,000 people joined an anti-government protest march though the centre of Prague on Saturday. The massive show of discontent with the government’s reforms was organized by the country’s umbrella trade union organization which is demanding the resignation of the centre-right cabinet of Prime Minister Petr Nečas. Trade unions have accused the government of impoverishing the weakest groups of the population with what they call unnecessarily harsh austerity measures, particularly seniors, handicapped and chronically ill people and families with children. Representatives from the opposition Social Democrats and Communist Party joined the march in a show of solidarity.
The leader of the Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka said that tension in the society had come close to breaking point and the show of public discontent was now such that the government could not continue to ignore it. The Social Democrat leader said that in view of the circumstances and the crippling government crisis the only clean solution would be to hold early elections in June.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he fully respected people’s right to voice their opinion but objected to the fact that the opposition parties had hijacked the protest to suit their own political interests. The prime minister said that in the country’s best interest the government would continue to follow a policy of fiscal responsibility. He said that what the opposition parties and trade unions had demonstrated on Saturday was sheer populism and said they had no viable alternative to offer to the government proposed reforms.
Trade Union leader Miroslav Zavadil said he was surprised and pleased by the strength of public support for the anti-government demonstration. He put the number of protesters at 120,000 saying it was the biggest anti-government protest since the fall of communism in 1989. Trade unions are considering further action if the government does not fall next week due to having lost its majority in the lower house. Bohumir Dufek, chairman of the Czech Association of Independent Trade said that if the government managed to muster enough support from independent deputies he would try to rally support for a general strike.
Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake, who triggered the latest government crisis by defecting from the junior coalition Party Public Affairs and establishing a break-away faction with which she hopes to continue to support the centre-right government, said early elections would not be a good solution to the present crisis. Mrs Peake said it was important to press ahead with reforms in the interest of young people and the country’s future. She noted that it was not just the Czech Republic but all of Europe which was going through bad times and appealed on the public to take a responsible stance to the country’s problems.
The leaders of the embattled coalition government are to meet on Sunday to debate the crisis precipitated by the split of the junior coalition party Public Affairs. The party’s split into two factions – one around its founder and informal leader Vit Bárta and the other around Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake – has robbed the government of its majority in the lower house and put into question its future existence. The Civic Democrats and TOP 09 no longer want to rule with the scandal-tainted faction around Vit Barta and Deputy Prime Minister Peake may not rally enough supporters behind her to establish a deputies’ club and secure a “safe” majority for the government.
Police are gearing up for a march of ultra-right supporters in the town of Břeclav on Sunday, where the youth branch of the National Workers Party for Social Justice aids to demonstrate its solidarity with a 15-year-old youth who was brutally attacked by three allegedly Roma youths. The victim had to have one of his kidneys removed after the attack suffered liver damage as well. He remains in serious condition. The incident has heightened racial tension in the town and police are expected to be out in force for the event aiming to prevent skirmishes and keep the march away from Roma dwellings. An initiative against race hate has also called a demonstration on the same day.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico visited Prague on Friday, on his first foreign trip since his re-election last month. Mr Fico met with his Czech counterpart Petr Nečas. The two leaders agreed that relations between both countries were excellent and pledged to further expand cooperation between both nations. Both leaders said that while their governments differed on some key issues such as EU policies, this did not affect the quality of Czech-Slovak relations. Mr Fico added that it was not his place to comment on the decision of the Czech government to not join the EU’s fiscal compact. The Slovak leader is met with President Václav Klaus and the head of the Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka.
Commenting on a protest to take place in Prague Saturday, with an expected turnout of about 100,000 citizens, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said that while people have the right to freely express their opinions, this needs to happen within the limits of what is legal. He added that similar protests were taking place across Europe and that it was everyone’s right to take their discontent to the streets. Organizers of the protest are demonstrating against Mr Nečas’s government and its austerity measures.
Influential Czech entrepreneur Zdeněk Bakala has written an open letter to Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas. In the letter, he calls on the prime minister to refrain from making accusations lacking evidence directed against his person in interviews. He further writes that his lawyer has taken the matter to the state prosecutor’s office and has asked it to intervene in the case of further public allegations. In recent months, Mr Nečas had mentioned Mr Bakala's name in connection with a police investigation into the privatization of OKD, a major mining company, in interviews with a number of dailies and weeklies. Mr Bakala has made it clear that he was not involved in the privatization process and that it was completed when his financial group NWR took over the joint stock company.