People demand resignation of Czech Prime Minister
Prague: Tens of thousands of people filled Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is accused of fraud in connection with subsidies paid by the European Union to the conglomerate he founded.
Organisers estimated the turnout at roughly 1,20,000, which would make Tuesday’s demonstration the largest public mobilisation here since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist government of what was then Czechoslovaki, the Efe news reported on Wednesday.
Czech police said in April that the billionaire Prime Minister should be charged with EU subsidy fraud, but the incumbent justice minister stepped down to be replaced by Marie Benesova, a Babis ally.
Since then, opponents of Babis have been urging Benesova to resign, fearing that she would try to obstruct a prosecution of Babis, the second-richest person in the Czech Republic.
Pressure on the Prime Minister increased after the leak last Friday of a report from the European Commission stating that Babis was liable for the repayment of 17.5 million Euros ($19.7 million) in EU subsidies.
The subsidies went to Babis’ Agrofert conglomerate, which comprises more than 900 firms in sectors ranging from food to chemicals and media.
Though Babis handed over Agrofert to two trust funds before becoming Prime Minister in 2017, European Commission auditors determined that as sole beneficiary of the trust funds, he continued to benefit from the conglomerate.
The leaked report also gave rise to allegations of conflict of interest, based on Babis’ role in deciding on the ultimate recipients of EU subsidies allocated to the Czech Republic.
Part of a campaign launched in April by the “million moments for democracy group,” Tuesday’s event was scheduled to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the massacre of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square and participants observed a moment of silence in honour of the dead in Beijing.
Besides calling for the Prime Minister to resign, protesters urged the EU to exclude Agrofert from European subsidy programs until such time as Babis retires from politics.
The next “million moments” rally is set for June 11 at Prague’s Letna Park, a much larger venue, where one million people gathered in May 1990 to see Pope John Paul II.