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Czech PM Delays Resignation as Parties Seek Way Forward


Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka speaks to journalists at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, May 4, 2017.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has postponed tendering his cabinet's resignation until the second half of May, his office said on Thursday, buying time to push through a plan for a new government before stepping down.

Sobotka announced on Tuesday he and the government would step down, less than six months before its term ends, to resolve a long-running dispute with billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babis, founder of the popular anti-establishment ANO movement.

The prime minister wants to form a new cabinet without Babis due to questions over Babis' business practices, even if that means stepping aside himself.

A new cabinet could include a replacement for Sobotka from his Social Democrat party, either Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek or Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, Zaoralek told reporters on Thursday.

Sobotka says Babis - the Czech Republic's second-richest businessman - failed to give convincing explanations for some past business deals.

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis leaves Prague Castle, after meeting with President Milos Zeman in Prague, Czech Republic, May 3, 2017.
Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis leaves Prague Castle, after meeting with President Milos Zeman in Prague, Czech Republic, May 3, 2017.

Babis has come under fire over the morality of using of tax-free bonds and legality of the payment of European Union small business subsidies to a company he ultimately acquired. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

"The government crisis can be over in 10 minutes," Sobotka told reporters "All it takes is for Andrej Babis to recognise his responsibility and put the interests of the Czech Republic ahead of his desire to remain finance minister."

But that is exactly what ANO refuses, saying Babis had no reason to quit.

Other parties in Sobotka's governing coalition want to avoid a snap election before national elections scheduled for Oct. 20-21.

Blurred Lines

Sobotka had planned to tender the government's resignation to President Milos Zeman on Thursday. But he held back, in part due to the possibility that Zeman, whose relations with Sobotka are poor, might consider Sobotka's resignation his personal move and not the cabinet's, which would have left Babis in place.

Past prime ministerial resignations have meant the automatic fall of the government, but the constitution is not specific on the issue.

Zeman gave Sobotka a dressing down in front of cameras on Thursday afternoon, implying the postponement of the resignation plan was handled clumsily by the prime minister's office.

"I can hardly submit the resignation at a moment when it is not clear how the [presidential office] will handle it," Sobotka said.

The two men later met behind closed doors.

Before announcing the cabinet's resignation, Sobotka had weighed sacking only Babis, a move the president - who formally removes ministers - indicated he might oppose.

The sense of a government in turmoil was heightened this week by wiretaps released by an anonymous Twitter user that appeared to show Babis interfering in news coverage at one of the newspapers now in his trust fund.

In an interview with news website DVTV, Babis denied any interference and said he would file a criminal complaint related to the matter.

Babis' Agrofert group, which he shifted to a trust fund earlier this year, includes hundreds of firms in chemicals and farming, as well as two national newspapers and a radio station.

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