Czechoslovak dissidents on Saturday said a police attack on a crowd of 5,000 people demonstrating for political reform was the most violent since 1969 and shocked the nation.
Hundreds of officers in riot gear on Friday wielded batons, fired teargas grenades and used water cannons against the crowd in Wenceslas Square as they marked the 70th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's foundation as an independent country."Today people are shocked by the brutality" said human rights activist Anna Sabatova. "Not since 1969 have we had any experience like this. But people were not easily dispersed."
In August 1969, Czechoslovak police attacked demonstrators on the first anniversary of a Soviet-led invasion which crushed the Prague Spring reform movement. Two people were reported killed.
Sabatova likened the force to that employed by Hitler's Gestapo against a crowd who sang the national anthem in Wenceslas Square in 1939. "Only now this was done by the Czechoslovak authorities," she said.
Dissidents said Friday's display of police might had only increased public disatisfaction over the country's refusal to liberalize despite avowed support for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies.
"This was a day of recognition," said Vlasta Chramostova, a prominent national theatre actress banned from performing because of her political activities. "People wanted to celebrate honestly and show that our democratic tradition was not dead."
The protest, said by dissidents to involve over 10,000 people, continued in the Old Town Square in medieval Prague for several hours after police charged on the peaceful rally.
Police and ministry troops, aided by plainclothes officers who kicked protestors and twisted their arms and legs, chased the crowd from the Old Town Sqaure to the Vltava river and down alleyways.
"The police were blinded by fear," said dissident film-maker Stanislav Milota.
An unidentified man read out a declaration by the Charter 77 human rights movement, one of six groups which organized the event.
"More and more people long for real democracy and more and more people are aware that however difficult this will be to achieve, it will not be a path into the complete unknown," the Charter statement said.