November 17, 2014 / 2:38 PM / 3 years ago

Waving red cards in protest, Czechs mark Velvet Revolution

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Thousands of Czechs marched through Prague on Monday to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism, waving soccer-style red penalty cards as a warning to a president they see as drifting too close to Moscow.

Demonstrators show symbolic red cards to Czech President Milos Zeman during a protest rally in Prague November 17, 2014. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Hundreds of protesters prevented President Milos Zeman from speaking by whistling and shouting as he unveiled a memorial at the site where the “Velvet Revolution” began in November 1989.

They cheered the presidents of Germany, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia at the same ceremony although Germany’s President Joachim Gauck was hit by part of an egg thrown at Zeman. Gauck’s office said the president was unhurt.

Thousands more marched to Zeman’s office in Prague Castle.

Others gathered in the capital and cities across the Czech Republic to light candles and remember the day in 1989 when police violently broke up a student march, sparking the uprising that brought dissident Vaclav Havel to power.

Growing numbers of Czechs feel that the ideals of their peaceful revolution, such as the defense of human rights, once a trademark of post-revolution Czech foreign policy, have been sidelined by economic interests.

“This date is crucial in my life, I was 15 then and thanks to gaining freedom at such a young age I grew up as a free man,” protest organizer Martin Prikryl said on state television. “I can tell my president today that I disagree with him. Twenty-five years ago, I would have got hit by a (police) baton.”

People around him carried banners saying “Down with Zeman” and “We don’t want to be a Russian colony”.

Zeman, 70, has repeatedly spoken out against EU sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine. He has also described Pussy Riot, the punk group jailed for denouncing President Vladimir Putin, as hooligans who should not have been treated as political prisoners.

A former leftist prime minister, Zeman won a direct election last year and still retains support of about half of voters. His backers were due to hold a rally later on Monday.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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