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A Prague district mayor is under police protection owing to an alleged Russian plot to “liquidate” him and two other politicians, including the mayor of the Czech capital, with the biological warfare agent ricin.
Ondrej Kolar, mayor of the Prague 6 district, told Czech television from an undisclosed location that he now had a police guard because of the suspected assassination plot.
"All I can tell you is that I've been granted police protection,” Mr Kolar said in an interview for TV Prima. “It was assigned to me because there's a Russian here who has been given the task of liquidating me.
"Not only me, but also Zdenek Hrib and Pavel Novotny," he continued, referring to Prague's mayor and another city official.
The three Czechs have caused anger in Russia with their handling of memorials to the Red Army, which liberated Prague in 1945. A particular bone of contention has been the decision by the Prague 6 council to remove a statue of Marshal Ivan Konev, the Red Army commander, from a square and relocate it in a museum.
Regarded as a war hero in Russia, Konev, and the presence of his statue, for Czechs is an unwelcome reminder of Soviet occupation and repression.
Last week Respekt, a Czech news magazine, cited security sources that claimed a Russian agent had arrived in Prague under a diplomatic passport carrying a suitcase with ricin.
The article has placed further pressure on Czech-Russian relations already strained from the Konev dispute.
The Czech foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday rejecting any interference in the country's internal affairs by a foreign state, after earlier warning Moscow of “consequences” if anybody was harmed.
But Russian Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, mocked the reports that the poison was kept in a suitcase.
“They’re trying to accuse us that we’ve tried to poison someone in the Czech Republic with a substance that was carried in a suitcase,” he told Russian news agencies. “But for some reason no one has presented that suitcase to the public.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a note of protest dismissing the article as an “information campaign launched by the Czech Republic to discredit Russia.”
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, on Wednesday asked Czech authorities to refute those reports or present evidence to back up those claims.
Ms Zakharova said that Russia does not want its relations with the Czech Republic to get worse: “We wouldn’t like that to happen. We’re doing our best to make sure it doesn't happen,” she told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Wednesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier this week described the article in Respekt as a “hoax.”