Czechs protest against president & prime minister 30 years after Velvet Revolution

Around a quarter of a million Czechs rallied against their prime minister and president on Saturday 5Nov. 16th) over deep concerns about the erosion of democracy in a deeply divided nation 30th years on from the Velvet Revolution Reuters reports.

Protesters filled Prague’s Letna park, waving Czech and EU flags at the site of the biggest rallies in November 1989 when communist rule in Czechoslovakia crumbled peacefully weeks after the Berlin Wall fell. 

Many in the crowd chanted “we are here,” echoing the cry from 30 years ago during the protests that propelled Vaclav Havel into office. 

Organisers want Prime Minister Andrej Babis to sever ties to his Agrofert business which they say represents a conflict of interest, or to step down by the end of the year. 

Babis — a billionaire businessman — has said he has resolved any issues by moving his assets to trust funds. 

“Some of our politicians do not understand why we are here. Others do not want to spoil the holidays,” said Benjamin Roll, vice chairman of the Million Moments for Democracy Association, which organised the protest. “The struggle for freedom and democracy never ends.” 

The speakers, including former dissidents who spoke at the 1989 rallies, said Babis and President Milos Zeman were unfit for office. Police estimated the crowd at 200,000 while organizers pegged the turnout at 250,000. 

Babis and his populist ANO party remain by far the most popular but also the most divisive political force due to the businessman’s background before 1989 when he was a Communist party member and had contacts with the secret police. 

Zeman, who has fostered warmer relations with Russia and China, described the protests as undemocratic because they fail to respect a decision to drop fraud charges against Babis and parliament’s rejection of calls for his own impeachment. 

“I would like to note that Andrej Babis had 1.5 million votes in an election and I had 2.85 million votes,” Zeman said in an interview for news website ParlamentniListy.cz. “Against that the participation at Letna is a small fraction.” 

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