June 1, 2018 / 10:42 AM / 24 days ago

Czech house backs boosting army's foreign missions despite Communist protest

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech lower house approved government plans to raise the number of troops deployed on foreign missions on Friday, with Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s party pushing the mandate through despite protests from the Communist Party.

Babis is counting on support from the Communists for a new government he is forming with the Social Democrats. Some Communist officials have said that the party’s 15 lawmakers will not back that coalition if Czech troops are sent to the Baltics.

The mandate increases Czech troop numbers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations and also extends a deployment in the Baltics, where up to 290 troops will join a NATO operation strengthening the alliance’s eastern flank with Russia.

The upper house of parliament, the Senate, approved the expansion of foreign missions in May.

A billionaire businessman before entering politics in 2011, Babis has struggled to gain partners while he fights police charges that he illegally gained EU subsidies meant for small businesses a decade ago. He denies wrongdoing.

The ANO party won the most seats in an October election but lacks a majority. A coalition with the Social Democrats would have 93 of 200 lower house seats.

President Milos Zeman will appoint Babis on June 6 for his second attempt at government, while the Social Democrats are holding an internal referendum on joining the coalition with ANO. The result is expected in mid-June.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and Alison Williams

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