PRAGUE (AP) — Tens of thousands of Czechs used a national holiday Friday to rally in the capital against the pro-Western government and its support for Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.
The rally follows two others at Prague’s central Wenceslas Square and was smaller than the 70,000 who gathered for the same reasons on Sept. 3, according to police estimates.
Held under the slogan “The Czech Republic first,” a reference to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s nationalist platform, the protest united the far right with the far left and various fringe groups. Its organizers are known for pro-Russian views and opposition to COVID-19 vaccines.
With soaring energy, food and housing prices hitting the country, the protesters were demanding the resignation of the coalition government led by conservative Prime Minister Petr Fiala.
“Resign!” they chanted while waving the national flags.
The protesters have repeatedly condemned the government for its support of Ukraine and the European Union sanctions against Russia, opposed Czech membership in the EU, NATO and other international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, .
“Russia’s not our enemy, the government of warmongers is the enemy,” one speaker said.
A smaller rally was held in the country’s second-largest city of Brno.
The government has dismissed those demands.
“We know who’s our friend and who’s bleeding for our freedom,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan tweeted. “And we also know who’s our enemy.”
Czechia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine, donated heavy weapons to the Ukrainian army and given about 450,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees that give them access to health care, financial help, work permits and other benefits.
Fiala and several ministers were planning to travel to Kyiv on Monday for a joint meeting of the Czech and Ukrainian governments.
“We intensively support the justified fight of the Ukrainian people against the Russian aggression,” Fiala said Saturday.
Although the country’s populist opposition made some gains in the municipal election last month, the five ruling coalition parties won big in the vote earlier this month for one-third of the seats in Parliament’s upper house, the Senate.