New Czech party gets tough on immigrants in EU vote

A new Czech party founded by a Japan-born entrepreneur is pinning its hopes on anti-immigrant rhetoric in its campaign for next month's European elections.

It is a strategy that helped sweep the Usvit (Dawn) party into parliament last October, when it scored nearly seven percent of the vote in a snap election just months after its launch.

The party has only nine regular members, including founder Tomio Okamura, a well-known half-Czech, half-Japanese businessman who counts a travel agency for cuddly toys among his successful ventures.

Usvit has tapped energetic lawyer Klara Samkova as its top candidate for the European Parliament poll.

"We have to say no to the kind of immigration that seeks to take advantage of Europe's social system," the 51-year-old said this month at a party rally in the northern town of Jablonec, famous for its costume jewellery.

"Don't board your boats, we won't welcome you," she cried, stressing the need to "protect European values that are above all Christian values."

"Immigrants bring over a completely different set of values that threaten to one day destroy Europe," she said while distributing leaflets.

- 'Too many foreigners' -

Her words have fertile ground in a nation where 51 percent of the population believes there are too many foreigners, according to a March survey by the CVVM agency.

Around 430,000 foreigners live in the EU member of 10.5 million people, according to official data.

That includes some 113,000 Ukrainians, 82,000 Slovaks, 52,000 Vietnamese and 32,000 Russians.

Usvit hopes to send at least one representative to the European Parliament to sit alongside peers from France's National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom and the UK Independence Party.

"I'm optimistic," said Samkova, who if elected wants to work on the parliament's Human Rights Committee, which she says is currently "cluttered with leftists".

At the top of the party's agenda are a tougher immigration policy and the defence of national sovereignty.

Since its founding last May, Usvit has relied on strong support in borderland regions hit hard by unemployment and social problems -- concerns less present in the wealthier capital.

"In Prague, there are many intellectuals who are out of touch with reality," said Samkova, who used to be married to an activist for the country's impoverished Roma minority.

"People in the countryside better appreciate our policy of telling it like it is."

- 'Impossible to stop' -

Led by the 41-year-old Okamura, Usvit has 14 seats in the 200-member Czech parliament. Its deputies often echo the fiery rhetoric on display at the Jablonec rally.

"I'm going to vote in the European elections and Usvit is among my favourites," said Jaroslav, an attendee in his sixties.

"I like their focus on referendums. I also agree with them on the immigration issue," he added, before complaining about his monthly pension of 8,000 koruna (290 euros, $400).

But postal worker Alena Zeniskova slammed Usvit's efforts to organise a referendum on adopting the euro, fearing the proposal will be rejected since most Czechs are opposed.

"I don't want this beggar's currency, the koruna. I want the euro. If we join the eurozone, we'll soon have the same wages as western Europe," the 39-year-old told AFP.

A supporter of the governing leftist Social Democrats, she said she does not view "every immigrant as a parasite".

Hana, a woman in her seventies, added that Usvit's policy is "neither positive nor constructive".

"Immigration is a natural thing, it's impossible to stop."

On its website, Usvit calls for "a stricter immigration policy" that closes the EU's door to "unadaptable immigrants and religious fanatics" but stops short of demanding a blanket ban on immigration.

Even Samkova ultimately takes a softer stance, admitting that she has nothing against "those who enter legally and earn an honest living".

"We have to refer to human rights by what they really are, that is, an indivisible union of rights and duties."