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Czech Protest Marks Invasion Anniversary

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From Reuters

About 200 Czechoslovaks staged a rare demonstration for political reform on Saturday, huddling under umbrellas to sing the national anthem on the 20th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of the country.

Lashed by rain, speakers at the rally in Prague criticized the absence of political or economic change in Czechoslovakia and spoke admiringly of liberalization in the Soviet Union. Several stressed the need for greater religious freedom and more open news media.

Earlier in the day, police detained three spokesmen of the Charter 77 human rights movement.

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But they took no action to stop protesters from gathering in Wenceslas Square, where Warsaw Pact tanks assembled after entering Czechoslovakia on the night of Aug. 20, 1968 to crush the “Prague Spring” reform movement.

Western diplomats said they were astonished that police only checked identity papers and did not break up the 45-minute meeting.

They described it as a remarkable incident in Czechoslovakia, where most citizens have sunk into political apathy since the invasion.

Pamphlets distributed by a previously unknown “Group of Concerned Citizens” announced the gathering. Speakers urged demonstrators to return to the square today.

A large camera set up on the square panned across the crowd, which stood beneath a statue of St. Wenceslas.

Some Czechoslovaks compare disgraced Communist Party chief Alexander Dubcek’s attempts to give socialism a human face with the perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union championed by Kremlin leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Earlier, police thwarted a bid by the Charter 77 spokesmen to present an appeal to the Soviet Embassy marking the anniversary.

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The three spokesmen were shoved into unidentified police cars by plainclothes officers as they came within several blocks of the embassy complex.

Principal spokesman Milos Hajek, a frail elderly historian, calmly entered a car but the two others, Stanislav Devaty and Bohumir Janat, put up a fight lasting several minutes as Western journalists watched police drag them and twist their arms.

The charter spokesmen had hoped to give Soviet diplomats a statement calling on Moscow to tell the truth about the invasion.

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