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1989: Police crush Prague protest rally

VIDEO : Marchers mob the streets to protest against student killed

Riot police in Czechoslovakia have arrested hundreds of people taking part in a protest march.

More than 15,000 people, mostly students, took part in the demonstration, the biggest show of public dissent for two decades.

They called for the resignation of their country's communist government, led by Milos Jakes.

Scores of people were injured, several seriously, as the police forcibly broke up the rally.

Witnesses said the police used clubs to beat marchers and sprayed tear gas indiscriminately.

Expectations

It comes in the wake of a wave of reform sweeping through other former Soviet bloc states.

In particular, the fall of the Berlin Wall last week in neighbouring East Germany and the disintegration of its hard-line communist regime has heightened expectations of possible change here.

The demonstration began at Charles University, just south of the city's centre.

It started off as an officially-sanctioned march to commemorate Czech student martyr Jan Opletal, who died at the hands of the country's Nazi occupiers 50 years ago.

The fact permission for the march was given at all reflects a growing recognition on the part of the country's communist leaders of the need for change.

It was only the second time a non-government rally had been allowed in Czechoslovakia since the crushing of Alexander Dubcek's reformist government by the Soviet Union 21 years ago.

Mr Dubcek, who has since lived in relative obscurity, was refused permission to travel to Prague to take part in the rally.

In Context
The following day rumours began to circulate that a 20-year-old student, Martin Smid, had been beaten to death by riot police during the demonstration.

These reports were hotly disputed by the government but nevertheless thousands of people once again took to the streets on 19 November in protest at the killing.

Throughout November peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes gained momentum.

On 22 November Alexander Dubcek addressed 200,000 people gathered in Prague's Wenceslas Square.

Eventually the Communist party leadership resigned and, in December 1989, was replaced by a government composed mainly of non-communists.

The overthrow of Czechoslovakia's communist regime became known as the "Velvet Revolution".

In 1993 the country split peacefully into two nations - the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


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