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Pro-Putin Politician Burns Giant Red Underpants in a 'Bizarre' Press Conference

The Czech Republic’s far-right, pro-Russian President Milos Zeman baffled journalists Thursday by calling a press conference where he burned a large pair of red underwear.

The underwear was identical to a pair of red underpants a group of artists has used to protest Zeman during recent years. Members of the Czech art collective Ztohoven had climbed the presidential palace in 2015 and replaced the flag with an enormous pair of red underwear.

The group said they carried out the stunt to represent Zeman’s "shamelessness." Since then, the president’s opponents have used the red underwear during protests against his political campaigns.

Zeman’s decision to burn a pair of red underwear in front of journalists Thursday appears to be a symbolic gesture meant to exorcise the red underwear—a popular symbol of the opposition—from the public consciousness. 

“The time of underwear in politics is over,” Zeman declared as the red underwear burned.

"I'm sorry to make you look like little idiots, you really don't deserve it," he added to journalists before they left the event. Reporters from the Agence France-Presse described the press conference as “bizarre.”

Some analysts said the gesture was meant to make a mockery of Zeman’s critics, but it only succeeded in making him look bad.

“President Zeman held a press conference with his pants, literally, on fire. As much as he wanted this gesture to constitute a major trolling of journalists, the joke probably ended up being on him and sadly sums up his second presidency,” Zselyke Csaky, a Central Europe expert with the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Freedom House, told Newsweek.

The populist Zeman, who is a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was elected for a second term in January.

He has taken a very strong anti-immigrant and anti-Islam position, despite the fact that the Czech Republic has just a little over 10,000 Muslims living in the country. He has also called for the Czech Republic to hold a referendum on its membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Many analysts have called Zeman Putin’s most influential ally in Central Europe. Over the years, he has cast doubt on Russian interference in Eastern Ukraine and has advocated for the West to lift sanctions against Russia. He is often featured in a positive light in Russia’s state-run media, and Putin has said he is responsible for developing bilateral relations and trade between Moscow and Prague.  

Representatives of the Czech government did not respond to Newsweek’s requests for comments in time for publication.

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