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Czech president fires minister, still foot-dragging on replacement

Czech president fires minister, still foot-dragging on replacement
FILE PHOTO: Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger Copyright Leonhard Foeger(Reuters)
Copyright Leonhard Foeger(Reuters)
By Reuters
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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman dismissed the culture minister on Monday after two months of delay that brought the ruling coalition to the brink of collapse.

Zeman had long backed Culture Minister Antonin Stanek despite a request in May by Stanek's Social Democrat party and Prime Minister Andrej Babis that he be removed.

The constitution demands that presidents remove and appoint ministers at the prime minister's request. However, Zeman had said the constitution gave him no deadline to act.

Stanek's removal is not the end of the conflict. Zeman has so far not said whether he would appoint the Social Democrats' chosen successor to the ministry, Michal Smarda.

In an announcement of the dismissal, Zeman's spokesman made no mention about the replacement.

Zeman's inaction led the Social Democrats to threaten to leave the centre-left cabinet they share with Babis's populist ANO party.

They demanded that Babis use his official powers to force Zeman to act, by legal action if necessary. Babis has refused to do so to protect his relationship with the president.

Zeman had said Stanek was a solid minister. He also said the coalition's failure would be no political upheaval, as Babis could turn to the pro-Russian, anti-EU opposition Freedom and Democracy Party (SPD) to support his cabinet instead of the Social Democrats.

Babis, who already needs the votes of similarly anti-western Communists to secure his parliamentary majority, has repeatedly ruled out working with the SPD.

The Czech economy has been on a path of growth and the markets have been unfazed by the political instability.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Peter Graff)

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