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Czech police say sorry for Roma’s death; protests planned

June 24, 2021 GMT
A man  lighting up candle Tuesday, June 22, 2021  in Teplice, Czech Republic, in the place where a Roma man died in an ambulance after a police action on Saturday, June 19. An autopsy has ruled out the connection between the police action and the death of the man, who was apparently under the influence of narcotics. (Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP) SLOVAKIA OUT
A man  lighting up candle Tuesday, June 22, 2021  in Teplice, Czech Republic, in the place where a Roma man died in an ambulance after a police action on Saturday, June 19. An autopsy has ruled out the connection between the police action and the death of the man, who was apparently under the influence of narcotics. (Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP) SLOVAKIA OUT

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech police have said they are sorry about the death of a Roma man who died after an officer responding to a call about an altercation knelt on his neck, but said the preliminary investigation showed no link between the police intervention and the man’s death.

“We are sorry about the loss of any human life,” the local police chief, Jaromir Knize, said.

“Under the current circumstances I stand behind the officers but of course, I’m sorry about the death of the person, that’s for sure. Nobody wishes anything like that to happen.” He said, however that in his opinion the policemen acted in line with law and their training.

“We can clearly rule out any link between the police intervention and the death,” his deputy Zbynek Dvorak added. Police said the cause of death was an overdose of crystal meth.

Three police officers were involved in Saturday’s incident in the northern city of Teplice.

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Video footage shows one of them kneeling on the man’s neck for several minutes. The man, who has not been officially named, later died in an ambulance.

Roma activists reject the police explanation and are planning a protest rally on Saturday in Teplice.

“I’m angry,” Jan Duzda, a music producer who is a Roma told The Associated Press in an interview in English “I’m angry because this is not for the first time. It’s really strange,” Duzda said. “My question is why he died?”

Duzda said that when he looked at a video of the incident, he wondered why they needed to restrain the man for so long. “There’s really something wrong.”

He said that attacks on his embattled minority are common in the country, adding: “Treatment from the police side is very, very bad.”

Roma have long suffered racism and discrimination in eastern Europe and continue to face huge hurdles in employment and education.

Some compare the incident to the killing of George Floyd, a Black American man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

Europe’s main human rights body, the Council of Europe, Amnesty International and the government’s envoy for human rights all called for a thorough and independent investigation while the country’s deputy ombudsman said she will launch a separate probe into it.

While police have not concluded their own probe, an independent government agency that investigates crimes committed by police said on Thursday that after assessing available information, it didn’t consider the police action illegal and “therefore will not open a criminal investigation,” the General Inspectorate of Security Forces said in a statement.

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Associated Press Central and Eastern Europe News Director Amer Cohadzic contributed.