Political storm after riot police break up CzechTek festival

A techno party in a field near the Czech-German border has become a minor political scandal after police in riot gear moved in at the weekend to break it up. Police said they dispersed the CzechTek festival after complaints from neighbouring landowners, but the amount of force used has been heavily criticized.

CzechTek, photo: CTKCzechTek, photo: CTK The annual CzechTek festival, this year being held near the village of Mlynec, in West Bohemia. The authorities have let previous festivals pass mostly undisturbed, but this year riot police used water cannon and fired tear gas grenades to disperse the estimated 5,000 partygoers.

Several dozen people were injured in the clashes that followed, and the heavy-handed approach of the 1,000-strong riot police unit has been condemned by politicians and the media. President Vaclav Klaus, who was on holiday in the Alps at the time, released this statement via his spokesman Petr Hajek.

"The action of the police is hard to excuse. Especially in our country, where the sight of riot police moving in on young people automatically brings back unpleasant memories from the past. This event was very bad indeed, and bears witness to the fact that something is not right in this country."

Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan, photo: CTKInterior Minister Frantisek Bublan, photo: CTK The authorities have rejected the criticism, Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan told Czech Radio police had no choice but to act and uphold the law.

"The fact that we've so far been benevolent has caused problems, because in countries such as Germany, France or Britain, this just isn't possible. Either they have special laws on such gatherings or the local authorities don't allow them in the first place. If we allow such events to take place here, everyone would get used to the fact and I don't think that would send a positive signal. Because the law is being broken, private property is being destroyed, and the state can't just sit back and watch."

Several thousand people later demonstrated in front of the offices of the Interior Ministry in Prague, and another demonstration is planned. The police's decision to intervene was supported by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, and some of accused him of using the show of force for political purposes. Mr Paroubek's popularity - boosted by his uncompromising words and deeds - has risen in recent months, but this time it seems he might have gone a step too far.