Tens of thousands take to Prague streets demanding billionaire PM resign

Tens of thousands rally in the Czech capital to demand the resignation of embattled Prime Minister Andrej Babis amid accusations he's in a conflict of interests over his former business empire.

Reports suggest Andrej Babis has been profiting from business interests while in office

Thousands of demonstrators gather to protest against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis at the Wenceslas Square in Prague on Tuesday. Babis is suspected of alleged misuse of EU subsidies and conflicts of interest due to continuing ties with his business empire. (Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE)

Tens of thousands rallied in the Czech capital on Tuesday to demand the resignation of embattled Prime Minister Andrej Babis amid accusations he's in a conflict of interests over his former business empire.

Babis, a populist billionaire, has already been under pressure after Czechs have rallied in great numbers in Prague and elsewhere in recent weeks.

They are protesting the appointment of his new justice minister, who they say might compromise the legal system at a time when prosecutors have to decide whether to indict Babis over alleged fraud involving European Union funds in a separate case.

The protesters in downtown Wenceslas Square turned against Babis in one of the biggest anti-government protests since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, days after a preliminary confidential EU report said Babis was still the beneficiary of his Agrofert conglomerate of more than 200 companies.

"We demand the resignation of Andrej Babis," rally organizer Mikulas Minar told the crowd.

"Resign, resign," and "We had enough," the protesters chanted.

Babis denies allegations

Babis, who denies wrongdoing, called the report an attack on his country.

He was required to transfer ownership of his businesses to two trust funds in February 2017.

The preliminary report leaked to multiple Czech media outlets in recent days concluded he still formally controls the businesses and is in a position to influence the EU subsidies they receive.

"I would never do anything like that," Babis told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament during a session on this issue earlier in the day. "I'm not a fool."

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, shown Monday, denies wrongdoing. Babis has been PM since 2017. (Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE)

Babis called the EU findings untrue and called the report "an attack on the Czech Republic, an attack on Czech interests, a destabilization of the Czech Republic."

The report suggests the country should return about €17.5 million ($25.6 million Cdn) that Agrofert received in EU funds.

It said it presents preliminary findings, conclusions and recommendations that still can be modified after the EU receives comments from the Czech side.

The protesters again demanded the resignation of Justice Minister Marie Benesova, who has significant control over prosecutors. The protesters are angry that Marie Benesova was appointed shortly after police recommended Babis's indictment in April.

Demonstrators are shown at Prague's Wenceslas Square. Protest leaders say they are prepared for further demonstrations later this month if their demand is not met. (Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE)

As a lawmaker, Benesova voted against a police request to strip Babis of parliamentary immunity to face investigation.

Babis is a controversial figure because of a power-sharing deal with the Communist Party and the fraud charges. His position is also complicated by allegations he collaborated with the former communist-era secret police and his conflict of interest.

The protesters announced a major protest to take place in a Prague park on June 23 if their demands aren't met.


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