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Czech Social Democrats stick to minister nominee in government dispute

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PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic’s junior coalition party the Social Democrats said on Monday they were sticking with their preferred candidate for culture minister, prolonging a spat that is threatening the survival of Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority government.

The Social Democrats requested in May that President Milos Zeman sack Culture Minister Antonin Stanek, whom they accuse of being ineffective, and to replace him with their preferred candidate, Michal Smarda.

Zeman has so far refused to finalise the personnel change, angering the party he once led and creating a standoff.

At a meeting of the wider party leadership on Monday, the Social Democrats stopped short of a decision to leave the coalition with Babis’s ANO party or have their ministers resign, but kept the threat of resignations on the table.

They called in a resolution for Babis to ensure the party’s nomination for culture minister is respected.

“I expect another round of negotiations between the prime minister and president in this matter,” Social Democrat leader Jan Hamacek told reporters. “We are convinced that the rules apply to everyone.”

Under the Czech constitution, the president is obliged to fire ministers if requested to do so by the prime minister, but Zeman is known for acting independently of the government. In this dispute he has said there is no deadline for taking action.

While Zeman has defended current minister Stanek, he last week promised to dismiss him by the end of July. But Zeman gave no assurances he would appoint Social Democrat nominee Smarda.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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