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Czechs Mark Half A Century Since Jan Palach's Self-Immolation

A photo of Jan Palach at his grave in Prague. (file photo)

Czechs have been marking 50 years since student Jan Palach set himself on fire in downtown Prague in an act of revolt in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet invasion.

Palach, who was 20, went to Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969, poured petrol over his head and set himself on fire. He died three days later of his burns.

The student of economics and philosophy left a letter behind calling for the end of censorship and Soviet propaganda, and for a general strike.

Dozens of public events were held across the Czech Republic on January 16, including a concert alongside an exhibition in Wenceslas Square and the unveiling of a memorial plaque at Charles University, where Palach studied. Marches with lights were held in the evening.

Palach called himself "Torch no. 1" in his letter, giving the impression that he was a part of a larger group which in fact did not exist.

"People must fight against the evil they feel equal to measure up to at that moment," Palach said before he died in hospital on January 19.

On the 20th anniversary of Palach's death in January 1989, thousands protested in the biggest antigovernment demonstrations in two decades.

They were violently dispersed by police, but months later, communism was toppled in the Velvet Revolution.

Other dissidents in the Eastern bloc, before and after Palach, took the same desperate action to protest the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Flames Of Protest: The Wave Of Self-Immolations Against Soviet Tanks
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With reporting by Reuters