Tear gas, water cannons as Czechs protest virus rules

Prague (AFP) –


Czech police said they used tear gas and water cannons at a violent rally held Sunday in Prague against government measures introduced to stem the coronavirus spread.

Thousands of protesters, including "radical "football fans according to police, gathered in the capital's historic Old Town Square to demand the resignation of Health Minister Roman Prymula, the mastermind behind the restrictions.

The rally turned fierce as protesters and police scuffled after authorities began dispersing the crowd, saying attendance far exceeded the current limit.

"Participants attacked the police without any reason," Prague police chief Tomas Lerch told reporters, while another officer described them as "radical fans".

"We used a water cannon, tear gas and petards," Lerch said, adding that nearly 20 officers were injured.

Prague's emergency service tweeted it had treated nine people and taken four to hospital "mainly with head injuries, cuts, inebriation and breathing problems following tear gas intoxication."

Police said they detained around 50 people before the rally and seized fireworks, brass knuckles, telescopic batons and firearms.

The Czech Republic is the worst-off in the EU's rankings of new coronavirus cases and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

On Friday, the EU member of 10.7 million people set a new record in daily infections with 11,105 cases.

As of Sunday, it has registered more than 170,000 confirmed cases and over 1,400 deaths.

The rally was organised by the HON civic association, though football supporters made up a sizeable percentage of the crowd.

"The government announces the measures automatically without context and most of us have no chance to cope with them," reads a statement signed by the fans of 13 out of 18 Czech top-flight football clubs.

Waving a Czech flag, protester Vlasta Ciencialova, who came to Prague from the east of the country, did not mince her words regarding Prymula.

"He admits no opposition. How dare he? Who does he think he's talking to? We're not sheep, we're normal people," she told AFP.

Prymula himself slammed the protesters for "disdaining the work of medical workers."

"I suppose we'll have hundreds of new infections as a result," he added.