Czech PM must quit, say 50,000 protesters

Prague (AFP) –


Tens of thousands of Czechs rallied in central Prague on Tuesday demanding the resignation of populist billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis over fraud allegations.

Prosecutors reopened a previously closed case last week alleging that he fraudulently obtained EU subsidy money in 2007, four years before he entered politics.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing and refused to step down.

Tuesday's protest came after even bigger anti-Babis rallies in June and November, the largest such events since the end of communism in 1989.

The rally, in Prague's iconic Wenceslas Square, was organised by Million Moments for Democracy, a protest movement started by students who aimed to bring down Babis over his failure to tackle corruption.

"This thick-skinned guy with his relaxed certainty that people will buy his lies is not a man who should represent me," protester Josef Smycka, a pensioner from the eastern city of Olomouc, told AFP.

On top of the fraud inquiry, Babis is now facing claims of conflict of interest.

A European Commission audit concluded that his business interests were incompatible with his political role, according to leaked documents obtained by Czech media.

The audit also suggests his firm, Agrofert, should return hefty sums in EU and state subsidies.

Babis says he transferred Agrofert into two trust funds, as required under Czech law.

Protester Zuzana Pelantova, who owns a farm south of Prague, is not convinced.

"We can't have a man with a conflict of interest at the head of the government, managing the entire society, with his incredible powers and arrogance," she told AFP.

Babis leads a minority coalition -- his ANO movement formally partnered with the Social Democrats, relying on the support of Communist Party lawmakers.

Despite Babis's woes, ANO still tops opinion polls with stable 30 percent support.