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Czech government survives confidence vote

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By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government on Friday survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence called by the opposition to dismiss centre-left Prime Minister Andrej Babis over a fraud investigation.

The motion fell nine votes short of the 101 needed in the 200-seat lower house.

The result had been expected after the centre-left Social Democrats, partner of Babis’s ANO in the minority administration, and the far-left Communists both refused earlier this week to vote with the opposition.

Babis, a billionaire businessman, has since last year battled police charges that he hid ownership of one of his firms, transferring it to his adult children a decade ago so it could receive a 2 million euro EU grant that was meant for small businesses and not big corporations.

He denies any wrongdoing and calls the investigation a campaign to force him out of politics.

If the case is brought to court and Babis is found guilty, he could face several years in jail.

While the vote failed, it exposed the EU and NATO country government’s vulnerability stemming from Babis’s legal woes.

The Social Democrats, who have five ministers in the cabinet, abstained in the vote rather than voting actively to support it, after pleading in vain with Babis to step down and propose a replacement from his own party.

The opposition demanded Babis to step aside.

“The government should be led by an ethical, moral and honest person who has credit even with his political opponents,” Ivan Bartos, head of the opposition Pirate Party told parliament before the vote. “I do not see such person at the helm of this government.”

Thousands of people protested last week in Prague against Babis and another protest was planned for Friday evening.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams)

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