AP, Jan. 11, 2003
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) – Authorities issued a last-minute ban Saturday of a right-wing extremist group’s planned march through Prague’s Jewish quarter, an official said.
The decision came after sharp criticism from Jewish groups in the Czech Republic and abroad.
Several dozen right-wing demonstrators who had gathered near the synagogues, the Jewish cemetery and other famous Jewish sites in the capital’s historic center disbanded after being told their planned march had been banned, Prague’s Mayor Pavel Bem said.
They then marched through other parts of Prague for about half an hour, carrying burning torches in a scene that was reminiscent of Nazi marches in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
“It makes me angry that this can happen in Prague today,” said Jindra Zeyerova, who looked on.
Nobody was detained, police spokeswoman Daniela Razimova said, and there was no violence.
The organizers of the march said they wanted to demonstrate in the Jewish quarter to commemorate Palestinian victims of the conflict with Israel.
Bem said he called off the march because it would have defamed Jews and their religion.
“I am outraged by any effort of any group to desecrate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” Bem told The Associated Press. He did not say why the decision came so late.
About 150 demonstrators had gathered near the Jewish quarter to prevent the right-wing marchers from entering the neighborhood, but the groups never crossed paths.
Tomas Jelinek, chairman of Prague’s Jewish Community, said his group welcomed the decision but would have preferred it to come much earlier.
The march would have been “something the Jewish part of the city has not experienced since the Nazi occupation during the World War II,” he said. “It reminds me of the anti-Jewish marches in the 1930s.”
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement it was outraged by the authorities’ initial decision to permit the march.
About 3,500 Jews live in the Czech Republic, about 1,500 of them in Prague. Before World War II, the country was home to 120,000 Jews. Some 80,000 perished in death camps, while thousands of others died afterward or emigrated.