Police Detain 355, 10 Injured in Anniversary Rally For Reform
PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Police detained 355 people, including 17 foreigners, during Saturday’s rally for democratic reform by more than 10,000 people marking the 71st anniversary of Czechoslovak independence.
Ten people were also injured in the melee that ensued when hundreds of helmeted riot police swinging batons moved in on the peaceful crowd. The injured were three policemen and seven protesters.
The official news agency CTK, giving the tally of those arrested and injured, said the foreigners came from 11 different countries. It did not identify any by either nationality or name.
Official media accused U.S.-funded radio stations and Western media of encouraging the rally, the largest anti-government protest in 20 years.
The peaceful protest began at 3 p.m. Saturday, when thousands of Czechoslovaks defied warnings from communist authorities to stay off the streets and rallied in memory of the proclamation of Czechoslovak independence on Oct. 28, 1918.
Police moved in swiftly after the crowd began chanting demands for free elections and a new government. The helmeted riot squads beat up several people, and made those detained stand spread-eagled against police vans before whisking them away in waiting buses.
″We want no violence,″ protesters chanted as they were penned in by riot police. ″We’ve got bare hands,″ they shouted, raising their hands to show they were unarmed.
CTK said police used ″mild means″ to break up the rally after about 3,000 of the protesters ignored police loudspeaker warnings to disperse.
State television broadcast pictures of Western camera crews filming the rally, and a commentator suggested they were partly responsible for the demonstration.
CTK accused the U.S.-funded radio stations Voice of America and Radio Free Europe of helping to organize the protest. Their broadcasts in Czech and Slovak can be widely heard in Czechoslovakia.
City streets and most bridges across the Vltava river that runs through Prague were sealed off as sporadic demonstrations continued. Sirens wailed through the city and dozens of police vans raced through the streets.
Police seized the film of several Western photographers.
Hours before the rally began, the Communist government held an official military parade on Wenceslas Square to commemorate Oct. 28, 1918, when the Czechoslovak state came into existence.
The Communists took power in 1948, and Czechoslovakia remains one of the East bloc’s most rigidly controlled states.
About 1,500 soldiers stood ramrod straight as Defense Minister Gen. Milan Vaclavik instructed them to swear allegiance to defend their homeland.
Josef Kempny, head of the Communist-dominated Czech National Council, stressed in a 15-minute speech the importance of preserving Communist power and reiterated that the government will not seek dialogue with independent, pro-democracy groups.
″There is no sense in debate with those who like to talk, but who oppose February 1948 and are against socialism, who care only for the return of capitalism and who try to distract our honest workers from their work and to create chaos,″ Kempny said.
His speech drew scant applause from an estimated 3,000 Czechoslovaks who were given special passes to be allowed through police cordons and metal barriers for the ceremony.
Three hours later, a crowd stood on the same spot, demanding freedom and a new government.
The crowd chanted the name of Tomas Garrique Masaryk, the philosopher who founded independent Czechoslovakia, and cheered at banners reading ″The Truth Will Prevail,″ and ″We Will Not Let The Republic Be Disrupted″ - a popular Communist slogan turned on its head by the demonstrators.
Protesters also chanted support for the Charter 77 human rights group and for dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, the group’s most prominent member who was detained last week.
After police began clearing the square, about 2,000 protesters marched to the hospital where Havel, suffering from a bronchial ailment, was taken Thursday after his detention.
Another 2,000 demonstrators made their way to old town square, which like Wenceslas is a historic rallying spot. They sang the national anthem and chanted more slogans before riot police moved in.
A group of 3,000 to 4,000 young people moved to the Red Army square, where hundreds of riot police again dispersed them.
Last year, about 5,000 people rallied at Wenceslas Square on Oct. 28 and were dispersed by riot police using dogs, water cannons, tear gas and batons. At least 87 people were arrested.
Last week, authorities arrested at least 11 dissidents to prevent them from attending Saturday’s rally, but activists said others escaped the police dragnet to attend.
Dissidents said before Saturday’s rally that recent demonstrations for more democracy in neighboring East Germany had increased popular desire in Czechoslovakia to show the ruling Communists people want more freedom.
The government in Czechoslovakia, unlike its neighbors in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union and now in East Germany, has initiated only tentative reforms and refused dialogue with independent groups.