Czech Communist ex-cop quits parliament job after rallies


Prague (AFP)

A former Czech Communist riot police officer stepped down as head of a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, following widespread criticism and rallies that have drawn several thousands of protesters.

"I resign as the head of the committee supervising the General Inspection of Security Forces" which investigates crimes committed by the police, 48-year-old Communist lawmaker Zdenek Ondracek told parliament.

He cited the "security of my family and myself", following a wave of protests against his appointment, approved by lawmakers last Friday.

Thousands of Czechs rallied across the country on Monday in protest against Ondracek, who helped suppress anti-Communist demonstrations in the 1980s.

In Prague alone, the protest drew a crowd of about 7,000 people who waved banners and Czech and EU flags, and signed a petition calling for a new vote on the appointment.

Speaking in parliament, Ondracek dubbed the protesters "a handful of loudmouths", echoing the rhetoric of the Communist press which regularly played down the number of anti-regime protesters.

Critics blame Ondracek for his role in breaking up 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 last week that "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.