Anti-Minority Violence Czech Police Stop Rioters from Attacking Roma Camp

Police in the Czech Republic battled 500 right-wing protesters on Monday who were trying to attack a Roma community with Molotov cocktails, machetes and pitch forks. The incident is part of a troubling pattern emerging in Europe.

Czech police battled hundreds of far-right rioters armed with an array of weapons north of Prague on Monday in a successful attempt to prevent them from entering a Roma neighborhood.

The riot took place in the northern town of Litvinov, which lies 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Prague. The estimated 500 members of the far-right Workers' Party had gathered for a march in the town before suddenly turning off the approved route toward Janov, a section of the town with a large Roma community.

Their progress was blocked by an estimated 1,000 police officers, who were also seeking to contain an estimated 300 Roma men, who had gathered to defend their community, many armed with sticks and knives, according to the Web site of Radio Prague.

"The police tried to get the demonstrators back to the planned march route, but (the protestors) started throwing flaming bottles," police spokeswoman Jarmila Hrubesova told the BBC.

Reports from the scene paint a chaotic picture of black-hooded protestors chanting racist slogans while hurling cobblestones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police and setting at least one police vehicle on fire.

On the other side, police officers in heavy riot gear, on horseback and in armored personnel carriers used batons, tear gas and water cannons to maintain a wedge between the two sides.

"We discovered weapons -- sticks, guns, pitchforks, machetes and other things -- in the cars of extremists and also Roma people," police spokesman Vladimir Danyluk told Reuters.

In the end, the rioting left seven demonstrators and seven police officers injured, according to the Czech News Agency CTK. Police also arrested 15 protesters.

The protestors had gathered for a march on a public holiday marking both a 1939 Nazi clampdown on Czech universities as well as commemorating the student demonstrations in 1989 that sparked the Velvet Revolution, which ultimately led the country to abandon decades of communist rule.

Earlier this year, the Czech Republic's Interior Ministry officially labeled the Workers' Party an extremist group, and the Czech government is currently attempting to disband it.

The violence heightens fears in Europe of both far-right and anti-minority violence as it follows similar trends in other EU countries. In Italy, for example, there have been numerous outbreaks of anti-Roma violence , including an episode in May when unknown assailants burned a Roma encampment outside Naples and crowds gathered to cheer as police escorted its estimated 800 inhabitants to safety.

jtw -- with wire reports

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