Czechs protest against ex-communist police official

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Prague (AFP)

Thousands of Czechs rallied in protest Monday against a decision to name to a top post a former Communist riot police officer who helped suppress anti-regime demonstrations in the 1980s.

Some 7,000 protesters gathered in Prague and rallies were also called in other cities against Zdenek Ondracek, a 48-year-old Communist lawmaker.

Parliament on Friday approved his appointment to chair the committee supervising the General Inspection of Security Forces, which investigates crimes committed by police officers.

Waving banners and Czech and EU flags, the Prague protesters signed a petition calling for a new vote on the appointment.

"The appointment of Ondracek is an example to be avoided of the current tendency in which extremist opinions are accepted as a new kind of social norm", said one of the protest's organisers, Vojtech Otevrel.

Critics blame Ondracek for his role in breaking up anti-Communist rallies in central Prague in 1989, including the November 17 student march that was brutally suppressed by the police with hundreds of protesters injured.

Ondracek insisted: "We served the country, the citizens of this republic."

The rally led to the Velvet Revolution which toppled Communism in late 1989.

Four years later Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.