PRAGUE – Tens of thousands of Czechs held a demonstration on Wednesday in which they remembered countrymen who were killed or injured on this date in 1969, when security forces violently quelled protests against the Soviet Union’s crackdown a year earlier on the Prague Spring democratic reform movement.
During the march, people shouted slogans against two of the top leaders of the Central European country: Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman and leader of the center-right ANO party, whose allies in parliament include the Communist party; and the former Social Democratic leader, President Milos Zeman.
Babis has been accused of fraud and conflict of interest in connection with subsidies paid by the European Union to the conglomerate he founded.
The Czech Senate, meanwhile, voted last month to bring charges against Zeman for alleged breach the country’s constitution over his failure to appoint proposed government ministers, although the Constitutional Court would only take up the case in the unlikely event that a three-fifths majority in the lower house approves the request.
The march in remembrance of the dramatic events of 50 years ago, in which five people were killed and as many as 1,000 were injured at the hands of the Czech police, army and the People’s Militias, was organized by the “Million Moments for Democracy” group.
In June, that platform organized a rally in Prague’s Letna Park in which some 350,000 people called for Babis’ resignation, a citizens protest that was the largest since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist government of Czechoslovakia.
A new mass protest is expected to be held on Nov. 17, when Czechs will mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the six-week Velvet Revolution.
Pressure on Babis increased after the leak in late May of a report from the European Commission stating that the prime minister was liable for the repayment of 17.5 million euros ($19.4 million) in EU subsidies.
The subsidies went to Babis’ Agrofert conglomerate, which comprises more than 900 firms in sectors ranging from food to chemicals and media.
Though Babis handed over Agrofert to two trust funds before becoming prime minister in 2017, European Commission auditors determined that as sole beneficiary of the trust funds, he continued to benefit from the conglomerate.
The leaked report also gave rise to allegations of conflict of interest, based on Babis’ role in deciding on the ultimate recipients of EU subsidies allocated to the Czech Republic.