Wednesday 21 August 2019

Czech protesters urging resignation of PM say democracy at risk

Protesters gathered in Prague to demand Andrej Babis quits as prime minister.

A man waves the Czech flag as people protest in Prague (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
A man waves the Czech flag as people protest in Prague (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

By Karel Janicek, Associated Press

Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Prague to urge Prime Minister Andrej Babis to resign.

Protesters gathered from across the Czech Republic for the capital’s biggest anti-government demonstration since the 1989 pro-democratic Velvet Revolution that brought down the communist regime.

The demonstration at Letna Park, a site of massive gatherings that significantly contributed to the fall of communism in what 30 years ago was Czechoslovakia, was the largest from two months of street protests opposing Mr Babis.

The protesters of 2019 said they did not come to overthrow the current political system but to defend it.

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Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis (Julien Warnand/AP)

They consider Mr Babis, a populist billionaire, a threat to democracy, including the independence of the country’s legal system.

“We demand the resignation of Andrej Babis,” said Mikulas Minar, a student who put his studies on hold to help lead the recent demonstrations organised by a group called Million Moments for Democracy.

Mr Babis has repeatedly said he has no reason to resign.

“It will likely be a long run,” another organiser, Benjamin Roll, told the crowd. “The current situation is unacceptable.”

Opposition to Mr Babis has been fuelled by the appointment of a new justice minister as prosecutors are deciding whether to indict Mr Babis over alleged fraud involving European Union funds.

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Protesters are demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The protesters fear the new minister might undermine the independence of the Czech legal system, a threat that has brought the governments of Poland and Romania warnings from the European Union.

Justice minister Marie Benesova is a close ally of Mr Babis and voted against a police request to strip the prime minister of parliamentary immunity to face a criminal investigation.

A preliminary European Union report leaked in May concluded that Mr Babis might have had a conflict of interest over EU subsidies involving his former business empire.

Mr Babis denied wrongdoing and accused the EU of trying to destabilise the Czech Republic.

Besides demanding the prime minister and justice minister’s resignations, many of the demonstrators accused Mr Babis and his key ally, president Milos Zeman, of undermining Czech politics and democracy overall.

Mr Babis also faces allegations he collaborated with Czechoslovakia’s secret police before 1989, as well as criticism of his government’s power-sharing deal with the Communist Party.

The protesters announced another major protest at the same location for November 16 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

PA Media

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