Riot Police Break Up CzechTek

The sight of riot police moving in on young people automatically brings back unpleasant memories, President Vaclav Klaus said after police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd at this year’s CzechTek party.

His statement was broadcast on Radio Prague the day after police in riot gear caused a political storm by using heavy-handed tactics to break up the annual electronic music event.

Other authorities have rejected the criticism, with interior minister Frantisek Bublan telling the radio station that police had no choice but to act and uphold the law. “The law is being broken, private property is being destroyed, and the state can’t just sit back and watch,” Bublan explained.

The president’s criticism of the police action looks like a political dig at Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who supported the move and has been boosting his popularity with uncompromising shows of force.

This time, he may have gone too far. Several thousand people protested in front of the offices of the Interior Ministry in Prague, and other demonstrations have already been planned.

Ivan Langer, shadow interior minister for the right-of-centre Civic Democrat Party, joined in the criticism. He claimed the police had bowed to pressure from the prime minister’s office and hadn’t learned from similar events in the past.

Green Party MP Jaroslav Stetina said the police action was “inappropriate and illegal.”

Some 5,000 fans from the Czech Republic and other European countries arrived Friday night (July 29th) for the electronic dance music event. The event, which usually lasts five days, was held in a meadow in Mlynec, a village near the German border about 130 kilometers west of Prague.

On Saturday afternoon, about 1,000 riot police broke up the festival after complaints that revelers had illegally entered land outside the zone approved for the event. Police spokeswoman Jolana Cihova reportedly said the force was necessary to persuade the revelers to leave.

Each year, the festival’s location has been kept secret until the last moment, when details are posted on the Internet, but this year the organisers had permission to use the Mlynec site.

It seems the problem was caused because they failed to get legal access from the owners of the surrounding land, who asked police to stop the festival-goers from crossing their property.

According to reports, dozens suffered mostly minor injuries, with around 20 party-goers and five officers suffering more serious wounds that required medical attention.

Last year, police stopped the CzechTek party at Bonenov after five days, citing legal problems and complaints from local citizens.

— John Gammon