Czech protesters rally against government's pro-Western policies

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of a pro-Russian Czech opposition party gathered in Prague on Saturday to protest against the country's centre-right government, criticising its economic management and military support for Ukraine.

The protest was called by the PRO movement, which is not represented in parliament and has taken a nationalist, pro-Moscow and anti-Western line.

News agency CTK estimated the turnout at about 10,000 people, smaller than a similar event a year ago which took place at the height of Europe's energy price surge.

"We made another step today to move out of the way the rock that is the government of Mr (Prime Minister Petr) Fiala," PRO leader Jindrich Raichl told the crowd in Prague's Wenceslas Square.

"They are agents of foreign powers, people who fulfil orders, ordinary puppets. And I do not want a puppet government any more," Raichl said, saying the Czech Republic should veto any attempt by Ukraine to join NATO.

Under the current government, the Czech Republic has been a close ally of Ukraine, sending tanks, rocket launchers, helicopters, artillery shells and other material to help Ukrainian forces fighting Russia's invasion.

Raichl hailed the nationalist policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a role model and called for an alliance of Central European countries to counter Brussels.

He also voiced support for Slovakia's former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has adopted a staunchly anti-Western stance ahead of an election on Sept. 30.

Protester Marcela Hajkova, a mother-of-three, condemned the government's military aid to Ukraine, among other policies.

"We are not a sovereign country, we listen to Brussels," she said. "Why send weapons to Ukraine, why don't they strive for peace?"

Protesters also criticised the government's stewardship of the economy, which has suffered double-digit inflation and underperformed its European peers, with output not yet returning to pre-COVID levels.

Police said in a social media post they had detained one man at the rally wearing a patch of the Russian private military company Wagner Group on suspicion of supporting genocide, without giving further details.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and David Cerny; Editing by Helen Popper)