Man sets himself on fire in central Prague

Police officers investigate the scene of where a 54-year-old man tried to set himself on fire at the Wenceslas Square in Prague.
Police officers investigate the scene of where a 54-year-old man tried to set himself on fire at the Wenceslas Square in Prague.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PRAGUE (AFP) - A Czech man set himself on fire on Friday (Jan 18) in central Prague where the student activist Jan Palach self-immolated 50 years ago to protest the Soviet-led occupation of the then Czechoslovakia.

The man was put into an artificial coma and hospitalised with burns to his head and hands after setting himself alight at Wenceslas Square, officials said.

"The man born in 1964 set himself on fire around 3pm using a flammable substance," Prague police said on Twitter, adding that passersby put out the flames with clothing and a fire extinguisher from a nearby coffee shop.

"Rescuers put the patient with burns covering 30 percent of his body in an artificial coma," Prague emergency services spokeswoman Jana Postova added on Twitter.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova told reporters "there is no evidence the act had been a protest or politically motivated".

According to a witness quoted by local media, the man had two signs, one in Arabic and another using the Latin alphabet, as well as Christian crosses and a loudspeaker playing music.

"I thought he was a religious fanatic," one passerby who saw the man before the incident told the news site www.lidovky.cz.

"I saw him, he was muttering something, like a prayer," another passerby told public radio CRo1.

The Czech Republic marked 50 years since Palach's self-immolation earlier this week with official ceremonies and a torch-lit march through Prague.