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Police hunt for attackers as two-year-old Roma girl severely burned in alleged arson
20-04-2009 - Rob Cameron

Family home in Vítkov (Photo: CTK) A two-year-old girl is in a critical condition in hospital after a petrol bomb was apparently thrown through the window of her family home in Vítkov, north Moravia. The girl is from the Romany or gypsy minority, and police belief the alleged arson attack could have been racially-motivated. So far politicians have been united in their condemnation, and the cabinet is due to discuss racist violence at its meeting on Monday.

The incident occurred shortly before midnight on Saturday in Vítkov, a town of 6,000 people close to the north Moravian cities of Opava and Ostrava. A one-storey house went up in flames, so quickly that it was virtually destroyed by the time the firemen arrived.

Family home in Vítkov (Photo: CTK) Police are investigating the fire as a possible arson attack. They said they found fragments of what seemed to be at least one Molotov cocktail in the ruins of the house, although family sources said at least four petrol bombs were thrown.

Inside was a Roma family numbering eight people, several of whom were injured by the fire, including a mother and her two-year-old daughter who suffered severe burns and smoke inhalation.

The little girl is very seriously injured – she suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 80% of her body, and doctors cannot say whether she will survive. The next two days are apparently crucial to the girl’s survival. Her 27-year-old mother suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 30% of her body.

Family home in Vítkov (Photo: CTK) Police are considering the possibility of the attack being racially motivated, although they stress it’s just one theory and are still investigating. The girl’s aunt told TV Nova that shortly before midnight she heard a car stopping in front of the house and something being thrown at it, with someone shouting “Burn, gypsies” before driving off.

No other information is available, but the incident did take place as several hundred neo-Nazis were marching through the city of Usti nad Labem two days before the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth.

The mayor of Vitkov estimates that around 10 percent of the town’s 6,000 people are Romanies, and both neighbours and officials said there were no problems between them. Several local Roma, however, said it wasn’t the first time they’d been attacked; someone fired rubber bullets at their houses last year. Certainly there have been a number of neo-Nazi attacks against Romanies in north Moravia in recent years, several of them fatal.

Saturday’s incident earned swift condemnation from across the political spectrum. President Klaus said he was horrified by what he called a brutal, revolting act. Prime minister Topolanek said the cabinet would discuss the issue of racism and far-right extremism at a government session on Monday. Human rights and minorities minister Michael Kocab immediately donated 100,000 crowns to the family, who’ve now lost their home.

The extreme-right do seem to have a new confidence about them, holding regular marches through Czech towns. Hundreds of Romanies, meanwhile, are emigrating and many have been granted asylum in Canada on grounds of fear of persecution. Czech officials are now under pressure to act.

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