Massive crowd in Prague call for Czech PM's resignation

A man holds a Czech National flag during a rally demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on June 23, 2019 in Prague. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2019

Massive crowd in Prague call for Czech PM's resignation

  • The Slovak-born 64-year-old is facing charges over EU subsidy fraud after allegedly taking his farm out of his sprawling Agrofert holding to make it eligible for an EU subsidy

PRAGUE: Huge crowds flooded central Prague on Sunday demanding Prime Minister Andrej Babis step down over allegations of graft in a protest that organizers and local media claim drew around 250,000 people, making it the largest since the fall of communism in 1989.
The 64-year-old billionaire was charged last year in connection with a two million euro ($2.25 million) EU subsidy scam, while an audit by the European Commission ruled that he has a conflict of interest as a politician and entrepreneur.
The Czech government said earlier this month there were “errors” in the audit from Brussels and Babis has refused to budge.
“Judging from the aerial photos, it looks like we’re about 250,000. We’ll see how many more people will still arrive,” said Mikulas Minar, head of Million Moments for Democracy, the NGO organizing the protest, as it got underway.
Police told AFP they would keep their estimate of the size of the crowd “for internal use,” but mobile operator T-Mobile said on its website its estimate based on network data was “over 258,000” people.
“We’re fed up with what Babis is doing, how he manages the country,” Mila Stiburkova, a 39-year-old sales manager from the central Czech town of Sazava, told AFP.
“We don’t like him pocketing money, fooling people who trust him and getting away with it,” added Stiburkova, who like many protesters, traveled to Prague for the event.

Babis, the second wealthiest Czech according to Forbes, leads the centrist populist ANO movement, which, despite the controversy, won May’s elections to the European Parliament.
ANO took office after winning the 2017 general election campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket in EU and NATO country of 10.6 million plagued by graft.
It teamed up with the leftwing Social Democrats to form a minority coalition with tacit backing from the Communists for a parliamentary majority.
Babis, a former Communist, is the first politician since the 1989 fall of Communism in former Czechoslovakia to let the Communists have a role in government.
The Slovak-born 64-year-old is facing charges over EU subsidy fraud after allegedly taking his farm out of his sprawling Agrofert holding to make it eligible for an EU subsidy.
The EU is probing his dual role as a politician and entrepreneur, and Babis also faces allegations that he served as a secret Communist police agent in the 1980s.
Despite the allegations, which Babis fervently denies, ANO — described as a one-man party by critics — enjoys a steady 30-percent voter support in opinion polls.

“I don’t understand how this man (Babis) can go on. His political ambitions are in conflict of interest with everything. He’s abusing all subsidy and incentive systems, tax reliefs,” Martin Peroutka, a 45-year-old businessman from the northern town of Usti nad Labem, told AFP.
“The protests should continue, it’s an expression of democracy,” he added.
Minar announced the next protest rally for November 16, a day before the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that brought Communism down.
But he said protests might also be held earlier if needed.
Two rallies with more than 500,000 people each were held on the Letna plain on a hill near the Prague Castle during the Velvet Revolution that propelled dissident playwright Vaclav Havel to the Czechoslovak presidential seat.
Sunday’s rally is the latest in a series of protests against Babis and new Justice Minister Marie Benesova, which started as Benesova took office in April.
The organizers, who fear Benesova was appointed to clear Babis of his charges, brought about 100,000 protesters to Prague’s central Wenceslas Square in early June as the protests gradually increased.
Babis told the Czech news agency CTK on Sunday that he “absolutely disagreed” with allegations that he was tampering with the independence of the Czech judicial system.

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.