Police protecting Prague mayor after ‘Russian murder plot’

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The mayor of Prague has confirmed he is under police protection, days after a news report suggested he was the target of an assassination plot.

Czech newspaper Respekt alleges a Russian agent carrying the poison ricin arrived in the country three weeks ago.

Mayor Zdenek Hrib refused to say why he was under protection but said he had told police he was being followed.

The Russian embassy said the report had “absolutely no basis” and that it “categorically rejects” the allegation.

And Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, dismissed the news report as fake.

Czech law enforcement and politicians have not confirmed there was a plot. The article cites unnamed intelligence sources and has not been verified.

What did the Prague mayor say?

Speaking to BBC Russian, Mr Hrib said he could not say why he was under police protection.

He did say he had filed a report to the authorities after noticing he was being followed close to his home, and had seen the same person “multiple times”, but he added that he could not confirm if the protection was related to this report.

Mr Hrib also said if he had been killed, “this would mean that Russian agencies had crossed a red line”, but refused to say whether such a plot existed or was connected to Russia.

The mayor of Prague recently backed a decision to change the name of the square outside the Russian embassy to that of a murdered Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.

The Czech capital also removed the statue of Russian World War Two military hero Marshal Ivan Konev this month, angering Moscow.

Workers remove a statue of Ivan Konev in Prague
Image captionWorkers removed the statue of Marshal Konev in April 2020 during the coronavirus lockdown

What does the report allege?

The extraordinary report appeared in Czech weekly investigative news magazine Respekt on Monday.

According to the publication, a Russian man travelling on a diplomatic passport arrived in the Czech capital three weeks ago, carrying a suitcase containing the deadly poison ricin.

He was then taken to the Russian embassy in a diplomatic vehicle, Respekt says, citing unnamed intelligence sources.

Ondrej Kundra, the article’s author, told BBC Russian the man had been “working for one of Russia’s intelligence agencies”.

“Czech police got concrete information about him and he was found to be a real threat for… municipal politicians who were in recent months critical of the Kremlin,” he said.

The report says both Zdenek Hrib, the mayor of Prague, and Ondrej Kolar, the mayor of the Prague 6 municipality, are now under police protection.

Mr Kolar – who backed the removal of the Konev statue – later told Czech TV channel Prima that he was under protection because “there is a Russian here who has been given the task of liquidating me”, as well as Mr Hrib and a third politician, Pavel Novotny.

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