Roma demonstration increases pressure on PM to sack Christian Democrat leader

Photo: Jana Sustova

Just three months after taking office Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is struggling to keep his centre-right coalition government afloat. A fragile majority in the lower house, a rebel in his own party who is threatening to vote against the government's proposed tax reforms and worst of all a deputy prime minister accused of corruption who has been rocking the boat for weeks. On top of all this, around two hundred angry Roma demonstrators gathered outside government headquarters on Wednesday to demand the dismissal of the said deputy prime minister - Jiri Cunek - for offensive remarks he made about them in a newspaper interview.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
Chants of "shame on Cunek" and "down with the racist" filled the air outside the Czech government headquarters on Wednesday, as Roma demonstrators called for his head. They were angry at Mr Cunek for telling a tabloid newspaper that ordinary Czechs who were not well off and seeking government assistance would have to get a suntan and cause chaos in their families in order convince others that they were poor.

"He has no business being in cabinet. Let him go back to the town of Vsetin where he came from. He is not a statesman - he is a village politician."

Photo: Jana Sustova
Jiri Cunek, the man who first came to prominence by getting tough on Roma rent defaulters in Vsetin came out and attempted to speak with the protesters, claiming that he was not a racist, but his words were drowned out by calls for him to go. Although the protesters chanted the prime minister's name, only the minister for minorities Dzamila Stehlikova came out to receive their petition.

Photo: CTK
"The prime minister is aware of what is going on - he is working to resolve the problem," his spokesman told the assembled crowd.

Vocal as the Roma demonstration outside the government headquarters was, the prime minister faced far greater pressure within. His coalition allies from the Green Party have threatened to walk out of the government if Mr. Cunek remains. The problem is that with 100 seats in the 200 seat lower house the prime minister cannot afford to lose either the Christian Democrats or the Greens if he wants to keep the coalition government in office. The Christian Democrats have closed ranks around their embattled leader and, faced with the Greens' ultimatum, Prime Minister Topolanek may be forced to sack Jiri Cunek himself.