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17-11-2014

Czechs mark 25th anniversary of start of Velvet Revolution

Czechs this Monday are marking the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution which toppled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Dozens of events and happenings are scheduled around the country, including the Czech capital, specifically on Wenceslas Square (where mass demonstrations in 1989 hastened the fall of the regime) and the avenue Narodní třída, the site of a memorial where police brutally cracked down on student demonstrators a quarter-century ago on November 17, 1989. The Velvet Revolution paved the way for Czechoslovakia to return within the fold of democratic European countries after more than 40 years of communist rule.

Politicians, members of public, reflect on 1989

Politicians and others have been marking the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution since Monday morning, laying wreathes and flowers and lighting candles at the memorial to student demonstrators in the centre of Prague. A long line of visitors formed, some wearing pins with the likeness of the late Václav Havel, the playwright, former dissident, and leading figure of the Velvet Revolution, who was elected Czechoslovakia's first post-communist president.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was one of the first politicians on Monday to lay flowers; he said that 1989 represented above all a positive and key moment in Czechoslovak history, although he criticised economic steps taken during the so-called transformation period which followed. The prime minister later flew with a Czech delegation to Washington, where a bust of Václav Havel is to be unveiled in a special ceremony at the United States Capitol building. Mr Havel gave a famous speech to members of the US Congress in 1990.

Zeman 'drowned out' by jeers and whistling of hundreds of protestors

Hundreds of demonstrators whistled and jeered at Czech President Miloš Zeman throughout his speech marking the events of 25 years ago at Albertov in Prague, where student demonstrators began their march in 1989 to mark international students' day and to commemorate Jan Opletal and other students murdered by the Nazis 50 years earlier. Demonstrators on Monday, some holding placards protesting against Mr Zeman and his predecessor Václav Klaus, even threw items - prompting the president's security detail to open umbrellas. Mr Zeman, who was fully drowned out by the noise, said he was unafraid of them as he was unafraid 25 years ago. The crowd only grew quiet when German President Gauck, as well as presidents from the Visegrad 4, spoke shortly afterwards.

As president, Miloš Zeman has courted controversy on a number of occasions, most recently suggesting that the Velvet Revolution was triggered primarily by a false report of the death of a student, rather than by the brutality of the attack in Prague against students by the communist riot police. His comments were ridiculed by some, including a well-known historian, who also experienced the crackdown firsthand. Human Rights minister Jiří Dienstbier told Czech TV that the president's assessment was "a lie" as in the past Mr Zeman himself had written about the brutality of the crackdown on Národní Street.

Thousands also gathered to demonstrate against President Zeman in the city centre earlier in the day, holding up 'red cards' (as in football) calling for him to resign.

Protestors, demonstrating against Czech president, hit German counterpart with egg

During protests at Prague's Albertov where the Czech president was drowned out by chanting, whistling and jeers, his German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, was struck in the temple by a thrown egg. Security officers had opened umbrellas to block objects, including tomatoes, thrown during the unveiling of a plaque by Mr Zeman commemorating the events of 25 years ago. Mr Gauck as well as the Visegrad presidents including Slovakia's Andrej Kiska, had - by contrast - been applauded by the crowd. Mr Zeman's spokesman said President Gauck had been shaken but would continue with planned events.

President welcomes European heads-of-state at Prague Castle

President Miloš Zeman on Monday welcomed German President Joachim Gauck at Prague Castle, together the heads of state from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland (part of the Visegrad 4). Together, the leaders marked the anniversary of the fall of communism in Europe 25 years ago. Official ceremonies marking the turbulent events which saw the fall of totalitarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 began roughly five months ago in Poland. On Monday afternoon, the heads-of-state will take part in a debate at Prague's Charles University. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski is also secheduled to lay a wreath at Václav Havel's grave and will meet with expatriates at the Polish Embassy.

Police step in to prevent clash between students, extremists in Brno

Police in the city of Brno on Monday were forced to step in on Monday to prevent a clash between student demonstrators and far right extremists, holding separate protests. More than 500 students neared a demonstration organised by a far right party attended by around 50 extremists. Police moved in when the groups were within several metres of each other. One student, who reportedly hurt a far right supporter, was detained. The situation has since been defused but security measures remain in place.

Football: Czechs beat Iceland in Euro qualification

The Czech national football team defeated Iceland 2:1 in Plzeň on Sunday night, in their fourth qualification match for Euro 2016. The visitors scored early after an error by goalkeeper Petr Čech. But the Czechs equalized before halftime break with a goal from Kadeřábek; in the 61st minute, Iceland defender Sigurdsson scored an own goal, setting the score at 2:1. The Czechs now lead the A qualification group with a full 12 points from four games.

17-11-2014