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Czech Roma protest arson attack on baby

Prague — Rallies were held across the Czech Republic on Sunday in a show of strength by the country’s Roma community against extremism, two weeks after an arson attack left a Roma baby fighting for life.

A crowd of about 250 people gathered outside a Prague church to pray for the family from the eastern village of Vitkov, whose two-year-old girl has more than 80 percent burns after the Molotov attack on April 19.

"I have come to support the family," Monika Hlavacova, a young Roma woman from Prague, told AFP, describing the situation of the 300,000-strong Czech Roma community as "terrible."

Similar protests were held in 13 other towns and cities including Usti nad Labem, where neo-Nazis staged a march two weeks ago, and Chomutov, whose town hall seizes benefits from Roma defaulting on rents.

When the speaker in Prague said the Roma rallying in Chomutov had been attacked by extremists throwing firecrackers, the crowd chanted: "This is our home too," "Murderers" and "Shame on you."

The Prague rally was attended by several politicians including Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, but their presence failed to silence criticism that the government had been slow to react.

"If the family were white, politicians would have acted at once," said Hlavacova.