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article imageCzech coalition teeters amid row over ministerial post

By AFP     Jul 4, 2019 in World

The Czech Republic's minority government risked collapse Thursday as a junior partner threatened to quit, ramping up the pressure on billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who recently faced mass protests demanding he step down over alleged graft.

The threat by the leftwing Social Democrats (CSSD) was triggered by a row over a cabinet post.

They are paired in a minority coalition with Babis's populist ANO movement that relies on the informal backing of the Communist Party to survive in parliament.

The CSSD is demanding the dismissal of its own Culture Minister Antonin Stanek, criticised, among other things, over the recent firing of the National Gallery head.

While Stanek agreed to step down, pro-Russian, pro-Chinese President Milos Zeman has so far not endorsed it, creating deadlock.

"I'm not very optimistic" about staying in the government, CSSD chairman Jan Hamacek told reporters after Thursday's talks with Babis and Zeman.

Although under the Czech constitution the president is obliged to dismiss or appoint ministers at the prime minister's request, Zeman insists there is "no deadline" and has made it clear he wants Stanek to stay.

Constitutional court chairman Pavel Rychetsky on Thursday criticised Zeman's inactivity as "contradicting the constitutional order."

Hamacek said he had a replacement for Stanek in mind and that he would meet with Zeman again on July 12.

Babis said he hoped "that meeting will lead us to a solution that will preserve the current government."

Babis himself is facing charges of graft, EU concerns over possible conflicts of interest and mass rallies demanding his resignation.

Having made his fortune as the founder and owner of the sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding, Babis staunchly denies any wrongdoing.

More than 250,000 people rallied in Prague on June 23 demanding that Babis resign in the biggest Czech protest since the fall of Communism in 1989.

Despite the uproar, ANO tops opinion polls with 30-percent support and won May's European Parliament elections.

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