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1969: Prague riots over student martyr
Police wielding truncheons and firing tear gas from pressure canisters have broken up a march by hundreds of demonstrators in central Prague.

The violence erupted as officers tried to disperse the crowd gathered at the foot of the Wenceslas Statue, to pay tribute to Jan Palach, the student who burned himself to death in protest at the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

The mourners, mostly students, have been placing lighted candles and wreaths at the foot of the statue - traditionally a focal point for protesters.

The statue was also daubed with a slogan "Do not be indifferent to the day when the light of the future was carried forward by a burning body."

'Jan Palach Square'

Signs which said "Red Army Square" have been painted over with the words "Jan Palach Square".

Palach was buried yesterday after a ceremony at Charles University, where he was studying philosophy. An estimated 500,000 people gathered in the rain to watch the funeral procession on its final journey to the cemetery at Olsany.

There were no government representatives at the funeral and no police. Soviet troops kept out of sight.

It is understood the tough measures adopted by police trying to clear today's demonstration were the result of an ultimatum from the Soviet authorities.

Russians threaten force

The Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev, is said to have threatened to use military force to restore order if the Czech authorities did not take control themselves.

Police say they moved in after the crowd began chanting slogans, like "Russians go home", and refused to disperse.

Officers waving batons charged the crowd and began letting off tear gas. They made a number of arrests.

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Jan Palach
Jan Palach burned himself to death


In Context
The Soviet authorities had felt their control being undermined after the appointment of the reformist Alexander Dubcek as first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in January 1968.

After what became known as the Prague Spring during which Dubcek tried to develop "socialism with a human face", Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia on 20 August 1968.

Protests against the Soviet occupation continued after the death of Jan Palach. On the first anniversary of the invasion, there were again violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Soviet tanks entered Prague the following day.

Gustav Husak, a hardliner who supported the Warsaw pact invasion, became state leader replacing Dubcek in April 1969. He remained in power until 1988.

The communists were finally overthrown in November 1989 during the "Velvet Revolution", the first of many relatively peaceful anti-communist revolts that swept through Eastern Europe that year.

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