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Maticni street story ctd.
31-08-1999
Radio Prague, August 31st - Czech authorities have halted the construction of a high wall which would have separated Roma families from other residents in the northern town of Usti nad Labem. While the local Roma people say they would knock the wall down overnight anyway, the local council complains that the reasons for halting the construction were political. Vladimir Tax reports.
Maticni-Usti nad Labem

On Monday, human rights campaigners as well as Romanies began gathering in Maticni street in the city of Usti nad Labem, Northern Bohemia, at the site of the proposed construction of a two-metre wall to encircle a housing estate for rent defaulters, inhabited mainly by Romanies. The construction was to have begun this week, but the controversial project was stopped by the regional authority which claimed that a construction permit was required for the erection of such a wall. It also cited the law on protection of the environment and landscape, and the Bill of Rights and Liberties.

Usti nad Labem mayor Ladislav Hruska reacted by saying that these obstacles cannot prevent the construction of the wall and hinted that there might be political undertones behind the decision.

"I believe that this is not the standpoint of the regional authority itself, but that it has been forced to issue such a decision by higher state authorities," mayor Hruska said.

The Romanies who gathered at the construction site were ready to fight for their rights. While they are protesting against the erection of a wall, they have no objections to the current iron-bar fence which encompasses their housing estate.

"We will stand here day in, day out, to preserve the current fence," one of the Romanies told Czech Radio. "What can they do with us? They cannot put us all in jail. Whatever they build during the day, we will knock down overnight," he said.

Roma activist Ondrej Gina also warned that if the wall were eventually built, it would set a dangerous precedent as many local councils around the country are likely to follow the example and start separating their local Roma communities.

A local council in the Nestimice quarter of Usti approved the wall last year after residents complained of noise and the unsightly state of apartment blocks inhabited by Gypsy families. The plan has drawn strong protests from Czech President Vaclav Havel, human rights campaigners and Western governments. In May, the Czech government passed a resolution against the construction, saying it promoted racial discrimination, but councillors ignored the measure as unwarranted interference by the central government into local affairs.

The issue has became a focal point in the debate over the treatment of the Roma minority whose numbers are estimated at 300,000 in the Czech Republic which has a population of 10.3 million. The European Union has urged the Czech Republic to do more to integrate Romanies into society and it said the Maticni street wall would set a bad precedent.



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