Czechs pull down Gypsy barrier

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THE "wall of shame" dividing Gypsies living in a housing estate from their non-Gypsy neighbours in the Czech Republic city of Usti nad Labem will be demolished, the city council said yesterday.

The decision comes after months of political pressure on municipal officials from the Czech government and human rights organisations, as well as increasing diplomatic pressure on Prague from the European Union.

Municipal officials will spend a government subsidy of 3.6m crowns (pounds 65,455) on demolishing the two-metre-high, 65-metre long barrier and buying three nearby houses.

The fence, built under police guard at dawn last month on Maticni street, divides 40 Gypsies living in a run-down housing estate from 11 residents of the three houses on the other side. The homeowners had demanded that the wall be built after complaining to the city council over alleged noise and disruption.

Gunter Verheugen, the European commissioner in charge of EU enlargement, described the wall as a "violation of human rights".

EU officials are reported to have warned the Czech government that the wall could prevent the country being accepted as a member state of the European Union.