Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Far-right Czech Workers' Party to challenge court ban

By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Prague

Head of the Czech Workers' Party Tomas Vandas (centre) outside court, 17 February 2010
Tomas Vandas said his party was determined to take part in May polls

A far-right party in the Czech Republic says it will appeal against a ban imposed by the country's Supreme Administrative Court.

Workers' Party leader Tomas Vandas said the ban, announced on Wednesday, was a "political" decision aimed at excluding it from May elections.

The party has no national seats and holds just three local ones.

The court rules its rhetoric was racist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic. The party can appeal.

It is the first time a party has been banned for political reasons - rather than financial irregularities - since the Czech Republic became independent in 1993.

'Highly suspicious'

Mr Vandas told the BBC that Wednesday's ruling was a deliberate attempt by Czech politicians to exclude the party from the democratic process, and that the party was determined to take part in the upcoming parliamentary vote.

"The judge's comments were clearly political," Mr Vandas told the BBC.

If someone is looking for links with Hitler's Germany of the 1930s, then I'd advise them to read our manifesto. There's absolutely nothing of the sort in there
Tomas Vandas
Workers' Party leader

"The timing of the decision is highly suspicious, coming as it does three months before the elections."

Lawyers acting on behalf of the government - which filed the petition calling for a ban - said the Workers' Party enjoyed close links to neo-Nazi groups and clearly had been inspired by Adolf Hitler.

The party rejects such claims.

"If someone is looking for links with Hitler's Germany of the 1930s, then I'd advise them to read our manifesto, read our statements, read our point of view," Mr Vandas said.

"There's absolutely nothing of the sort in there."

The Workers' Party has just three local council seats nationwide, although in last year's European Parliament elections it shocked observers by winning more than 1% of the national vote.

It has become notorious for holding controversial rallies in areas inhabited by members of the Roma, or Gypsy, minority.

'Battle against extremism'

Those marches - described as "modern-day pogroms" by the government's lawyer - have frequently ended in violence.

I call on the whole of Czech society to reject these racist and extremist views
Gabriela Hrabanova
Council for Roma Community Affairs

"I think it's vital to show the whole of society that extremist groups like the Workers' Party advocate the suppression of the rights of ethnic and other minorities," said Gabriela Hrabanova, head of the government's Council for Roma Community Affairs.

"I call on the whole of Czech society to reject these racist and extremist views," Ms Hrabanova said. "All of us - including Romanies - have a place in this society."

Experts in extremism are divided over the possible consequences of the ban, with some worrying that the group will become even more radical.

However, members of the government told reporters it was an important first step.

"In a democratic society, the battle against extremism never ends," said Czech Interior Minister Martin Pecina in a televised news conference immediately after the ban was announced.

"Either we act immediately and stamp out extremism as soon as it appears, or we can wait for police cars to be set on fire and petrol bombs to be thrown," he added.

"Each step - like the one taken today - significantly weakens the neo-Nazi movement."

The Workers' Party has 30 days to file an appeal against the ban.

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