November 17, 2018 / 6:41 PM / a month ago

Czechs rally against PM Babis on Velvet Revolution anniversary

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Thousands of Czechs called for Prime Minister Andrej Babis to resign on Saturday, in protests coinciding with the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Communism in the former Soviet-bloc state.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest rally demanding resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague, Czech Republic, November 17, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Babis has denied accusations he hindered a fraud investigation and says he will not resign.

A junior government coalition party has been weighing whether to leave the cabinet after Babis’ son was recorded saying his father wanted him to hide last year to avoid police questioning.

The protests came two days after similar demonstrations calling for the billionaire businessman to resign. On Saturday the protests were mixed with celebrations observing the 1989 revolution that toppled the Communist government in then Czechoslovakia.

Protesters filled Wenceslas Square and the city’s Old Town Square, some chanting “Resign!” and carrying signs saying “We don’t want a prosecuted PM.”

Many lit candles to commemorate the Velvet Revolution and bands played throughout the city centre.

Opposition parties have called a vote of no confidence in Babis’s cabinet, which is expected to be held next Friday.

The centre-left Social Democrats, a government partner of Babis’s ANO party, are considering whether to withdraw support, although a party source said a number of its lawmakers were leaning toward staying.

Babis won support from President Milos Zeman who said late on Thursday he expected the situation to calm down. He said in a television interview he would give Babis another chance to form a cabinet if the confidence vote forced him to resign.

Police charged Babis and two of his children last year with fraud, saying they had manipulated ownership of one of Babis’s firms a decade ago so it would qualify for 2 million euros ($2.3 million) in public aid.

($1 = 0.8758 euros)

Additional reporting by Robert Muller Kahn, Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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