Czech Party Threatens to Quit Government Over Police Changes

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The Czech junior governing ANO party threatened to leave the ruling coalition, with its leader saying a proposal to reorganize the police force would cripple its elite organized-crime unit and halt the government’s anti-corruption efforts.

Billionaire Finance Minister and ANO Chairman Andrej Babis demanded a meeting of coalition leaders to settle a dispute about a motion to change the structure of police units that was also criticized by the country’s top prosecutors. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, a member of Premier Bohuslav Sobotka’s Social Democrats, has endorsed changes that sparked the resignation of the organized-crime squad’s chief.

“It’s necessary to act to prevent not only the complete discrediting of this government, but mainly irreversible damage of the police,” Babis said in a letter to Sobotka, according to an excerpt published Friday by news website, which the finance minister owns. “We refuse to bear this political responsibility.”

The rising tensions underscore uneasy relations among the three coalition parties, who have repeatedly quarreled over issues from welfare spending to legislation tightening conflict-of-interest rules for politicians. Despite the clashes, the two-and-a half-year-old government has agreed to reverse the austerity drive of the previous administration, with increased budget spending supporting an economic recovery from a record-long recession.

Political Rivals

Sobotka rejected Babis’s criticism of police changes, saying such moves were fully in the hands of the interior minister and the police chief.

“ANO’s behavior violates the principle of respecting the independence of police, lawfulness and the democratic division of power,” Sobotka said in an e-mailed statement.

While coalition partners, Babis and Sobotka are also political rivals and have frequently argued over issues including the state’s role in the economy. ANO is leading in opinion polls with just over a year to go before general elections, and Babis is the most popular party leader. The second richest Czech, he has threatened to quit the government on several occasions this year, but the coalition has so far managed to stick together.

(Updates with comments from Babis, Sobotka starting in third paragraph.)
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