Zeman says he wished to ‘liquidate’ press; critics unamused

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech presidential office said President Milos Zeman’s latest shot at the media was a joke. Politicians and journalists just don’t seem to get it.

Before meeting Russia’s president Sunday in China, Zeman commented on the presence of journalists, telling Vladimir Putin that they were too numerous and they should be “liquidated.” Putin countered that it could be enough to “reduce” them.

Their conversation was captured by a television microphone and posted on social media.

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said he “strongly” disliked discussion of such an inappropriate topic.

Culture Minister Daniel Herman called Zeman’s remarks “unacceptable.” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka simply re-tweeted a message about the number of journalists who were killed or attacked in Russia in recent years.

European Parliament lawmaker Pavel Telicka said the incident was evidence that Zeman doesn’t deserve to win another term in the election early next year.

Zeman’s sparring with the country’s press goes back to his time as prime minister from 1998 to 2002. In 2001, he threatened to destroy a weekly publication that accused his government of non-transparent policies supporting corruption, triggering protests by journalists at home and abroad.

When he was sworn in in 2013, he attacked the country’s media on his first day in office, saying some of them “brainwash” and “manipulate public opinion,” and has continued to make critical remarks.

Zeman, who opposes Western sanctions against Russia, met Putin on the sidelines of a conference in Beijing centered on President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative