Czechs Mark 1989's Fall of Communism With Red Cards and Candles

2014-11-17T165013Z_1785704744_GM1EABI028U01_RTRMADP_3_CZECH-ANNIVERSARY
People light candles at Narodni street in Prague's city centre November 17, 2014. Czech Republic marks the anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which lead to the fall of the communist regime 25 years ago, on Monday. David W Cerny/Reuters

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czechs marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Prague on Monday by again marching in protest, this time waving red cards rather than jangling their keys to serve notice to unpopular rulers.

Over 5,000 people rallied in the capital to raise the soccer-style penalty warning against President Milos Zeman, accusing him of drifting too close to Moscow - the power center that dominated their country from 1948 to 1989.

Others gathered in Prague and other cities to light candles and remember the day 25 years ago when police violently broke up a student march, sparking the "Velvet Revolution" that topped the communists and brought dissident Vaclav Havel to power.

Growing numbers of Czechs feel that ideals of their peaceful revolution such as the defense of human rights, once a trademark of post-1989 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 has repeatedly spoken against the EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its involvement in Ukraine. He has also described Pussy Riot, the punk group jailed for denouncing President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral, as hooligans who should not have been treated as political prisoners.

Protesters also marched to the medieval Prague Castle, seat of the Czech kings and now the office of the president, while hundreds prevented Zeman from speaking by whistles and shouting at the site where the demonstration in November 1989 started.

The crowd, however, applauded and cheered presidents of Germany, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, who joined Zeman to unveil a memorial at the site.

President Joachim Gauck of Germany was hit by an egg thrown at Zeman, the Czech president's spokesman said, but he was not injured and continued with the scheduled program.

Zeman, 70, a former leftist prime minister, won a direct election last year and still retains support of about half the voters. His backers were due to hold a rally later on Monday.

Czechs Mark 1989's Fall of Communism With Red Cards and Candles | World