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Street meetings protest against Babiš, Zeman in Czech towns

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Prague/Luxembourg, May 10 (CTK) – A large crowd of some 20,000 people protested against Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) and President Milos Zeman in one of the central squares of the capital city and many people gathered for the same purpose in several other Czech towns yesterday.

The Prague rally demands that Babis leave the government, none of his colleagues from the ANO movement head the Finance Ministry, and Zeman leave the presidential post because he does not meet his duties set by the constitution, the organiser Sarka Fialova told CTK.

If these calls are not heard, further protests are to follow, she said. The rally lasted about two and a half hours.

The participants in the protest included people of all generations. “I’m here mainly because of Zeman. I don’t like his lack of respect for the constitution. What I mind about Babis is that he is promoting his business through politics,” Jan Macek Sr told CTK.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) proposed Babis’s dismissal to Zeman on Friday, saying Babis failed to explain his suspected tax evasion and abuse of media. Zeman said he would deal with the proposal only later and he said it is Sobotka who caused the government crisis and who should leave. In a situation when Sobotka is on an official visit abroad today, Zeman invited the leaders of the three ruling parties for talks – Sobotka, Babis and Pavel Belobradek (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL). The CSSD decided to take part in the talks and Sobotka will be represented by his statutory deputy Milan Chovanec.

Speakers at the rally said Zeman and Babis abused their power.

“Milos Zeman should have never become president, Babis’s ANO movement should have never become part of the government,” actress Bara Stepanova said.

Catholic priest Tomas Halik indicated that Babis and Zeman represented a political style that drove the country eastwards, away from democracy and freedom.

Sobotka, who is on visit to Luxembourg now, said he appreciated it how many people in the Czech Republic managed to support the respect for the constitution, political culture and democracy.

He said the rallies confirmed his opinion that Babis must leave and that Zeman must dismiss him.

Similar protests were held in other big Czech towns – about 4,000 people gathered in Brno and hundreds protested in Ceske Budejovice, Liberec, Olomouc, Plzen and Zlin to show their dissatisfaction with Babis and Zeman.

Zeman was condemned for the indecent manner in which he treated PM Sobotka last Thursday. Zeman pretended as if Sobotka tendered his own resignation and he left the room while Sobotka was speaking.

In Brno, the protesters signed a petition urging the parliament to set up a commission that would examine the influence of the giant Agrofert holding, owned by Babis, on the operation of the state.

Babis recently had to transfer his business companies to trust funds to comply with a new conflict of interest law. Zeman filed a constitutional complaint against this law.

In Liberec, people gathered outside a hotel in which Zeman has talks with the leaders of coalition parties tonight.

In Ceske Budejovice, Senator Jiri Sestak (Mayors and Independents, STAN) said the filing of a constitutional complaint against the president is the most extreme alternative, but it may happen that it will have to be used in defence of democracy.

South Bohemian University former rector Libor Grubhoffer said the problem with Zeman is his action motivated by spite.

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