October 28, 2018 / 3:54 PM / 22 days ago

Czechs celebrate centenary with largest military parade since communist era

Soldiers participate in a memorial ceremony marking 100th anniversary of the 1918 creation of the Czechoslovak independent state, at Prague's Vitkov hill, the Czech Republic October 28, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic marked 100 years since the creation of Czechoslovakia on Sunday with the biggest military parade in its post-communist history, highlighting a weekend of celebrations.

More than 4,000 military personnel took part in the event, which saw tanks and artillery roll down Evropska (European) Street, one of Prague’s main boulevards that once bore the name of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Communist regime in Russia.

In a unique gesture, troops from NATO allies Britain, France, Italy and the United States joined the parade, watched by crowds lining the boulevard in wet, chilly weather. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also attended.

Before Czechoslovakia was made a country in the final weeks of World War One, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It remained a country until 1993 when it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Sunday’s parade, which included a flypass by JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets, was the showcase event of Prague’s centennial weekend which also featured concerts, the re-opening of the National Museum after a three-year renovation, visits by foreign leaders and a state medal ceremony due to be hosted by President Milos Zeman at Prague Castle on Sunday evening.

The country fell under four decades of communist rule dictated by the Soviet Union shortly after World War Two. That came to an end following peaceful demonstrations in 1989 in what became know as the Velvet Revolution.

Since its split from Slovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic has become richer, joined the NATO military alliance in 1999 and became a member of the European Union in 2004. The Czech Army today numbers 24,000 troops.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Susan Fenton

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