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Tens of thousands protest in Prague over high energy prices as Czech PM warns of pro-Russian influences

Tens of thousands of Czechs protested in Prague against the government to demand more state aid with rising energy bills, the largest manifestation of public discontent over the worst cost-of-living crisis in three decades.

About 70,000 people filled Wenceslas Square in the center of the Czech capital on Saturday, according to police estimates, with some carrying signs denouncing the country’s membership of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Czech inflation, driven mainly by surging housing costs and spiking energy prices, is currently the highest since 1993 and the central bank forecasts it to peak at around 20% in the coming months.

The government said the overall amount of state aid will total 177 billion koruna ($7.2 billion), or about 3% of the country’s economic output. The package of measures includes pension increases, pay hikes for state workers and 66 billion koruna in energy subsidies.

Members of extreme political groups that demand exit from the EU and NATO, including the far-right Freedom and Solidarity and the Communist Party, were scheduled to speak at the rally, according to the organizers’ website.

An online petition posted on the website called for securing cheap natural gas supplies via a direct contract with Russia, military neutrality and more support for Czech businesses. It also rejected the permanent settlement of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala, whose cabinet is among the most active European supporters of the Ukrainian fight against Russian aggression, said the demonstration was organized by pro-Russian sympathizers influenced by Kremlin propaganda, the CTK newswire reported.

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