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Huge rally in Prague against austerity measures, alleged corruption

Roman Vondrous / CTK via AP

People whistle and shout slogans at the anti-government demonstration organized by trade unions and civic groups in Prague on Saturday.


Tens of thousands of Czechs on Saturday staged one of the biggest protests since the fall of communism, marching in Prague against spending cuts, tax increases and alleged corruption and calling for the end of a center-right government already close to collapse.

Police estimated that 80,000 to 90,000 workers, students and pensioners snaked through the capital to rally in Wenceslas Square. Chanting and whistling, the crowd held banners proclaiming "Away with the government" and "Stop thieves." Organizers put the crowd at 120,000, the BBC reported.

Rallies of such a scale are rare in the country of 10.5 million people.

The demonstration against Prime Minister Petr Necas's government is the third such trade union-led protest in 12 months against austerity measures, and the turnout underscored rising public frustration after a series of graft scandals.


"This government is devastating state structures and is demeaning the unprotected with its asocial reforms," Jaroslav Zavadil, the head of the Confederation of Trade Unions, told the crowd.

The protest comes as the government is working to reaffirm its majority in parliament ahead of a Monday deadline.

The turmoil was triggered by the defection of Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake and her allies from the scandal-ridden junior ruling party Public Affairs.

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Peake has pledged her faction will continue to support the cabinet, but on Saturday it remained uncertain whether she could muster the 10 votes the government needs for the "safe majority" that Necas wants from her to avoid early elections.

An early election, two years after the last vote, would be likely to hand power to the opposition Social Democrats, who have a nearly 20-point poll lead over Necas' Civic Democrats.

The Social Democrats have pledged to undo some of the government's reforms of the pensions, health care and welfare sectors, and to tax companies and the rich to keep the budget under control.

"The reforms are not thought-out. The reforms are chaotic," party leader Bohuslav Sobotka said before marching on Saturday.

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