Hundreds of spectators drowned out a speech by Czech PM Andrej Babis on the 50th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The populist leader's own communist past has come under much criticism.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis was booed in central Prague on Tuesday at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
A former member of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, Babis was speaking at a memorial when his words were drowned out with boos and shouts of "Shame!" from protesters in the crowd. Babis didn't immediately react to the protest.
"He who governs with the Communists disrespects the victims of the occupation of 1968!" read posters held by protesters in front of the radio station in downtown Prague where around 15 unarmed people, mostly youths, died trying to prevent the Soviets from taking the building 50 years ago.
"The invasion by the Warsaw Pact army was brutal," said Babis at the memorial at the Czech Radio building. "Many of our people lost their lives."
Babis, who is the founder of the populist ANO Party, became prime minister last year. He has faced fierce criticism related to his communist past
and a power-sharing deal he made with the maverick Communist Party. He is also facing fraud chargesand allegations that he collaborated with the former communist-era secret police.
"Let us use this day of solemn commemoration to collectively remember that freedom and the respect for human rights can never be taken for granted and need to be fought for every single day," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement on Tuesday.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that while the Soviet invasion crushed the Prague Spring, "the desire for freedom and democracy survived and is the essence of what unites Europe today".
Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 20, 1968 to crush liberal reforms enacted in the brief era known as the "Prague Spring".
The movement was led by Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek who tried to put "a human face on socialism" through democratic reforms to Czechoslovakia's totalitarian regime.
In 1968 alone, 137 people were killed by Warsaw Pact soldiers, and a total of more than 400 died during the occupation of Czechoslovakia that ended only after the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution.
Czech public television has been airing special programs about the events of August 21, 1968 all day Tuesday. In the evening the station will broadcast a speech by Slovak President Andrej Kiska.
Czech President Milos Zeman, an ex-communist known for his pro Russian views, has decided to stay silent on the occasion. Zeman's decision not to attend the commemoration ceremonies has been strongly criticized by right wing opposition parties.
av/rt (DPA, AFP, AP)