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Czech premier backtracks on resignation amid minister spat

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/05/2017 By KAREL JANICEK, Associated Press
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka speaks during a press conference in Prague on Friday, May 5, 2017. Sobotka said he had changed his mind about resigning with his government and instead wanted to solve a political crisis by firing his finance minister Andrej Babis. (Ondrej Deml/CTK via AP) ** SLOVAKIA OUT ** © The Associated Press Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka speaks during a press conference in Prague on Friday, May 5, 2017. Sobotka said he had changed his mind about resigning with his government and instead wanted to solve a political crisis by firing his finance minister Andrej Babis. (Ondrej Deml/CTK via AP) ** SLOVAKIA OUT **

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic's prime minister has backtracked about resigning along with his government, saying Friday that he instead wants to solve a political crisis by firing his finance minister.

It's the latest development in the crisis triggered by Premier Bohuslav Sobotka on Tuesday when he announced his government would resign over the finance minister's business dealings. He said the minister, billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, hadn't properly explained suspicions that he avoided paying taxes.

Babis denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly refused to step down. Babis, one of the country's richest people, is a rival of Sobotka's leftist Social Democrats and heads a centrist movement that is a favorite to win October's parliamentary election.

Sobotka said Friday that he decided to change his mind about stepping down after President Milos Zeman, an ally of Babis and rival of Sobotka, tried to accept only the prime minister's resignation, and not the whole government.

Previously, a prime minister's resignation automatically meant the end of the government.

"Under the circumstances, the resignation makes no sense," Sobotka said after meeting his party's leadership. "I have a different solution."

Sobotka said he would formally send a request Friday to the president to fire Babis. The president formally fires government ministers at the request of the prime minister, according to the Constitution.

"I believe that the president will act in line with the Czech Constitution at least in this case and fires the minister without delay," Sobotka said.

Zeman said that he would prefer the government to stay in power until October's election, but without Sobotka.

The president's office said that Zeman won't act in haste, and will wait for the prime minister's move and act "responsibly."

Sobotka's decision to resign with his entire government was met with mixed reactions, with opponents suggesting he made a political mistake.

"It's absolutely chaotic behavior (by the prime minister)," said Petr Fiala, chairman of the opposition conservative Civic Democratic Party. "Nobody can understand it."

The leaders of the three-party coalition are scheduled to meet next week over the crisis.

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