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June 2nd, 1998

In the north Bohemian town of Usti Nad Labem, a elegation of Czech Romanies handed a petition to city mayor Ladislav Hruska protesting against the planned construction of a wall which the local authorities want to build to separate a Romany community from other citizens. Radio Prague's Libor Kubik filed this report:

The Romanies have asked the local council members, who stood behind the decision, to resign immediately. They also said that they would ask law enforcement bodies to prosecute all those involved in the decision.

Usti nad Labem mayor Ladislav Hruska accepted the petition, but expressed doubt that the Romany leaders knew the situation in the location where the wall is to be erected.

Before presenting the text of a petition that has yet to be signed, a spokesman for the Association of Romanies in the Czech Republic, Josef Sivak, described the city fathers' decision as an insult to all Romany people.

"If we allow this here, other towns will follow suit and then you will have ghettos, followed by gas chambers, and that will be the end of the Romanies," he said.

But Usti's Mayor Ladislav Hruska begs to disagree. He thinks the wall is a reasonable way to protect the town's "decent inhabitants", as he put it. He said this wall was not meant to separate people, and denied any racial motivation.

The Usti plan, to divide a street with a wall up to four metres high, has added to controversy over the Czech Republic's treatment of its 300,000-strong Romany minority which was highlighted last year when hundreds of Gypsies sought asylum in Britain and Canada. Only a handful were granted the right to stay.

The Usti trouble started four years ago, when the local authority moved the Romanies into the tenements, opposite non-Gypsy families and the street's original residents began to complain to the town hall.

What most reports fail to mention is that these original residents are comprised of only two houses across the street, and that another two houses a hundred meters down the road include the local pub and grocery store on their ground floors. The fact that the city would spend 350 thousand crowns to protect four houses from seeing Romanies across the street, instead of addressing their social problems, such as the refusal of the Employment Office to assist trade school graduates in finding employment, gets to the heart of the problems between the Romany minority and the Czechs.

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