Nov 17, 2014 11:23 AM
President pelted on Velvet Revolution anniversary
The Associated Press
PRAGUE (AP) Celebrations on Monday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution felt more like an uprising against the current Czech president.
To cries of "Resign! Resign!" Czechs pelted President Milos Zeman with objects including eggs, sandwiches and tomatoes as he stood side-by-side with the presidents of Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia at the university campus where a student rally launched the revolution in Czechoslovakia a quarter century ago.
Security guards used big black umbrellas to shield Zeman and other presidents from flying projectiles. German President Joachim Gauck was hit in the head by an egg as the presidents were unveiling a plaque to commemorate the 1989 events.
"Shame, shame," protesters in the crowd of thousands repeatedly shouted at Zeman, even as the other presidents were applauded. "I'm not afraid of you!" Zeman retorted to the crowd.
Anger in the Czech Republic has been growing against Zeman as critics accuse him of betraying the commitment to human rights enshrined by Vaclav Havel, the hero of the Velvet Revolution who became Czechoslovakia's first post-communist president. Zeman's opponents cite his pro-Russian stance in the Ukraine conflict, recent praise of Chinese leaders on a visit to China and comments seen as downplaying the police crackdown 25 years ago.
He also used a strikingly vulgar term in explaining in a live radio broadcast why he did not consider the Russian punk group Pussy Riot who spent time in a Russian prison camp over hooliganism charges political prisoners.
The center of Monday's commemoration was the street in downtown Prague where police brutally suppressed a peaceful anti-communist student march that came a week after the collapse of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 17, 1989.
The Velvet Revolution began with fiery speeches against the hard-line communist regime at Charles University, prompting thousands of students to march downtown. The police blocked the street from both sides, squeezing the protesters with armed vehicles before attacking them with truncheons; hundreds were injured. Undeterred, the students went on strike and crowds mushroomed in the days that followed.
On Dec. 29, 1989, Havel, a dissident playwright, became Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected president in a half-century.
(An earlier version of this story indicated incorrectly that Zeman praised visiting Chinese leaders while he made the remarks on his visit to China.)