PRAGUE - Thousands of protesters flocked into Prague's Wenceslas Square on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the government of the Czech Republic as an energy crisis stoked popular unrest that will be closely watched in other European capitals.
Despite a rain-soaked start, demonstrators hoisting Czech flags and chanting, "Shame! Shame!" turned out for the second time in a month to rally under the slogan "Czech Republic First."
They were a hodgepodge of figures with a broad range of causes, including Kremlin sympathisers and those who said they are fighting a "global elite." But many at the protest were there to express their concern about soaring prices and energy costs as winter loomed, with the Czech Republic one of the first countries in Europe to face such large protests over the issues.
Many protesters linked their economic woes to the European Union's tough sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine - repeating a line propagated by the Kremlin, which is advancing the narrative that EU sanctions against Russia are to blame for inflation and other financial troubles on the continent.
EU leaders counter that their sanctions against Russia are not causing energy prices to surge, but rather Russia's weaponisation of its gas supplies. Russia's decision to cut the gas supply to EU countries in response to their support of Ukraine has sent already high electricity prices - caused by pandemic-era distortions - skyrocketing.
And while individual EU countries might take some measures tailored to each's particular energy mix at home, the most effective intervention to stop the spiralling electricity costs will come at the collective level, analysts say.
EU energy ministers are meeting in Brussels on Friday to assess, and most likely finalise, a set of new policies that will aim to support households and businesses, and tax profits from energy firms.
But the EU efforts are viewed sceptically among protesters in Prague, the Czech capital, where some raised EU flags crossed with red Xs, while others raised the flags of the Czech Communist Party and far-right factions.
The odd mix, spanning the extremes of the political spectrum, was spearheaded by Mr Ladislav Vrabel, who brands himself as a populist leader seeking to force the resignation of the government and push for a deal with Russia for cheap gas.
"It is the duty of the Czech government to ensure the security...