PRAGUE – Hundreds of opponents of outgoing Czech President Vaclav Klaus rallied in Prague to celebrate his departure and burn an effigy of him on his final day in office Thursday.
Klaus polarized the public during his two terms in the normally ceremonial post with his strident views questioning the EU, gay rights and global warming.
But frustration with him multiplied following his recent amnesty that halted court proceedings in several high-profile fraud cases, on the grounds that he wanted to stop "endless criminal proceedings," infuriating many Czechs who are fed up with widespread corruption.
His opponents marched from the Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency, to the medieval Charles Bridge, carrying an effigy of Klaus and singing songs that ridiculed him. At the end of their colorful farewell mockery, they set it on fire before throwing it into the Vltava River while they noisily applauded.
"We want to make sure by this symbolic act that he never returns to politics," organizer Olga Cieslarova said.
The anger over his amnesty marred Klaus' legacy as a finance minister and prime minister who oversaw the Czech Republic's complicated transition to free markets after the collapse of communism in 1989.
On Monday, lawmakers at the parliament's upper house voted to file high treason charges at the Constitutional Court for the amnesty, an unprecedented case that is tainting his final days in the post.
About 73,000 angry Czechs have signed a petition backing the charges.
"The amnesty is a crime," said Jana Kralova, who joined Thursday's rally. "By committing this crime, he broke his presidential oath."
Klaus' opponents gathered in front of the Prague Castle with yellow daffodils and presented the flowers together with pens to a person wearing a mask of Klaus. That scene ridiculed Klaus' famed incident when a video that went viral on the Internet showed him quietly slipping a ceremonial pen into his pocket as Chilean President Sebastian Pinera praised the Czech leader's 2011 visit to the South American country.
"It will be a huge relief for most people" that Klaus' era is over, Jan Podestat said.
The daffodil is "narcis" in Czech and for his opponents it is a symbol of his narcissism and arrogance.
"Politicians should respect common people even they don't agree with what they say," said Josef Holakovsky, a 73-year-old nuclear physicist who traveled from the western city of Plzen to attend the event.
A number of concerts to celebrate the end of Klaus' presidency were planned for Prague and other cities.