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Czech PM resigns over aide's spying scandal

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A corruption and spying scandal forced Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas to resign on Monday after his top aide and alleged lover was indicted last week on charges of bribery and complicity in the abuse of power.


Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas resigned on Monday over a bribery and spying scandal involving his top aide and alleged lover that has plunged the recession-hit EU state into a fresh political crisis.

"Mr President, in line with the constitution... I resign," he told President Milos Zeman, who called for talks with political parties to discuss the government's future.

Zeman asked the rightwing Necas, who has been in office for three years at the head of a shaky coalition government, to stay on as caretaker leader until a new administration is named.

"Allow me to wish you a bit of human luck and a lot of personal happiness," he told Necas, who also stepped down as chairman of his Civic Democrats (ODS) party, saying he would serve the rest of his term as lawmaker and then quit politics altogether.

The crisis was sparked by the indictment on Friday of Necas's chief of staff -- and alleged lover -- Jana Nagyova on charges of bribery and complicity in the abuse of power.

Police accuse her of asking military spies to tail Necas's estranged wife Radka. The 48-year-old premier announced earlier last week that his marriage was over after 25 years.

"It's rather a soap-opera anecdote... two women, one after the other," Karel Schwarzenberg, head of the coalition's right-wing TOP 09 party, told the Lidove noviny newspaper.

Nagyova, a former accountant who has worked for Necas since at least 2006, faces five years in prison if convicted. Her lawyer says she acted in good faith, requesting surveillance to protect the premier and his wife from scandal.

Seven other senior figures including military intelligence heads and former lawmakers have also been charged with corruption and abuse of power.

The massive graft scandal erupted Thursday when police raided the cabinet office, defence ministry, villas and a bank in a dramatic swoop that turned up large stashes of cash and gold.

The leftwing Zeman said he would hold talks with party leaders from Friday to Sunday. Under the constitution, the veteran politician and one-time prime minister has the power to decide on a new government or call snap elections.

"There are several options. The current coalition will definitely try to renew itself. If it fails, parties will start to negotiate early elections," Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP.

An EU member of 10.5 million people, the Czech Republic has been plagued by corruption since it emerged as an independent state after its 1993 split with Slovakia.

Last year, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked the Czech Republic as worse than Costa Rica and Rwanda.

Necas's minority three-party coalition government has survived eight confidence motions in parliament since taking office in July 2010.

His Civic Democrats have made it clear they would try to find a new prime minister in the days to come to avoid early elections, which opinion polls show it would lose.

Czech media named Industry Minister Martin Kuba, the ODS vice-chairman, as a likely successor given his number two spot in the party.

Before the scandal erupted last week, Zeman had said he wanted general elections to be held together with an EU Parliament vote on May 24-25 next year to save taxpayers' money.

In office since March, Zeman has made it clear that he favours the left-wing Social Democrat opposition, which opinion polls show will win any snap election.

If Zeman fails to name a new prime minister, early elections could be held within 60 days after parliament is dissolved.

Financial markets shrugged off the political firestorm, having become accustomed to the instability plaguing Necas's government.

"Given that the coalition only held 100 of the 200 seats in parliament, and relied on independents to govern, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about the outcome," said William Jackson, an analyst with the London-based Capital Economics.

Necas started off with 118 votes in the 200-seat parliament before seeing his majority dwindle over a series of corruption scandals and party infighting.

The ODS is partnered with the smaller TOP 09 and the centrist LIDEM.

Despite the turmoil, all sides -- including the left-wing opposition -- have agreed to ensure a smooth political transition to allow for the clean-up of devastating flood damage in the country. At least 12 people perished and around 19,000 were forced from their homes.

The scandal comes as the country continues to struggle financially. Heavily dependent on car production and exports to the crisis-hit eurozone, the Czech economy has been locked in a record-long recession lasting six straight quarters.



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