By Robert Muller
PRAGUE, April 28 (Reuters) – The mayor of one of the Czech capital’s districts said on Tuesday he had been put under police protection due to a threat that a Russian man had been sent to kill him, escalating a row between Prague and Moscow.
Mayor Ondrej Kolar of Prague 6 irked Russia in recent months after his district removed a statue of Soviet World War Two commander Marshal Ivan Konev from a square.
That prompted criminal investigation by Russian authorities who saw it as an insult. Prague said such investigation of elected representatives was unacceptable.
“I can really only tell you that I have been given police protection. It was provided to me on the basis of certain realities … that there is Russian man here whose task is to liquidate me,” Kolar said in an audio recording played on Prima television.
Kolar’s comments followed reports in Czech news outlets – the weekly Respekt and the online daily Denikn.cz – that tied police protection of Kolar and the city of Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib to the arrival of a Russian man carrying a diplomatic passport in early April, seen by security services as a threat, the media said.
Reuters could not verify the media reports, based on unnamed sources.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday the country would not allow interference in its politics.
“It is impossible – if true – for some foreign country to take some actions here against our citizens,” Babis told a televised news conference.
Both Prague 6 and the city of Prague confirmed on Monday Kolar and Hrib were under police protection.
Kolar said Hrib was also a target as well as mayor Pavel Novotny of another Prague district, Reporyje.
A spokesman for the Prague city hall declined to comment on the reasons for the protection for Hrib on Monday, citing a police decision.
The city council led by Hrib in February renamed a square outside the Russian embassy in honor of murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
The counter-intelligence agency BIS refused to comment on the media reports on Monday. Police declined to comment.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said a Russian diplomat accredited in Prague did return several weeks ago from a business trip and was picked up by colleagues at the airport.
“It looks like another hoax,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday when asked about the Respekt report.
The Russian embassy in Prague protested the Respekt report in a statement on Monday and did not respond to Reuters questions on Tuesday. (Reporting by Robert Muller in Prague Additonal reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow Writing by Jan Lopatka Editing by Matthew Lewis)