PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka criticized the country’s president for supporting anti-Islamic groups and spreading hatred in an unusually sharp rebuke of the head of state in a newspaper interview published on Friday.
President Milos Zeman, 71, frequently expresses anti-Islamic views and has opposed allowing immigrants from the war-torn Middle East into Europe, drawing criticism last month from a top U.N. human rights official.
At a rally on Tuesday held by group called “We don’t want Islam in the Czech Republic” Zeman praised the up to 2,000 people who attended for independent thinking and he lashed out against what he said was a pro-immigration media massage.
“The highest representative of the country, the president of the Czech Republic, which has deep humanistic and democratic tradition, should not in my opinion speak at a gathering of a xenophobic sect which was filled with spreading intensive hatred,” Sobotka told daily Hospodarske Noviny.
“I believe he caught many people in our country off guard in a very unpleasant way,” he said, adding the meeting angered even Zeman’s supporters within Sobotka’s Social Democratic party.
In a reply via his spokesman on Twitter, Zeman said: “The prime minister apparently does not have adequate information, although he should have it before making such statement... I think that a good prime minister should not act like this.”
The Czech Republic has seen several thousands of migrants enter its territory this year, with the vast majority of the refugees and migrants traveling through neighboring Austria to Germany.
Zeman, 71, was criticized last month for making “Islamophobic” statements by United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.
At Tuesday’s rally he said most migrants to Europe were “young, well-fed men” who should be fighting Islamic State rather than running away.
Zeman, though he does not have much policy-making power under the Czech legal system, has also long differed from the European mainstream by his pro-Russian views in the Ukraine crisis.
The Czech government under Sobotka has been detaining and expelling many migrants under strict interpretation of international agreements at a time when most other countries threw their borders open to the flood of refugees.
The government has called for aid to be focused outside the European Union and at its borders, and opposes quotas for redistributing migrants among all EU states.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Richard Balmforth