Czech government wins confidence vote backed by Communists

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis delivers his speech in the Czech Parliament in Prague on July 11, 2018. (AFP / Michal Cizek)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Czech government wins confidence vote backed by Communists

  • A total of 105 lawmakers out of 196 present in the 200-seat parliament voted in favor of Babis’s minority cabinet, while 91 were against.
  • A Communist Party member in the 1980s, Babis has denied allegations that he served as a regime secret police agent before 1989.

PRAGUE: The minority government of billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis won a parliamentary confidence vote Thursday, becoming the first administration since the 1989 collapse of communism to rely on backing from the Communist Party.
It took Babis nine months to form a government after he won last October’s election, with potential partners initially shunning him over allegations of EU subsidy fraud among other concerns.
He finally struck a minority coalition deal with the Social Democrats in June, but with just 93 seats they must rely on backing from the Communist Party, which controls 15 seats.
“The parliament has voiced confidence in the cabinet,” parliament speaker Radek Vondracek said early Thursday morning after a marathon session lasting more than 16 hours.
A total of 105 lawmakers out of 196 present in the 200-seat parliament voted in favor of Babis’s minority cabinet, while 91 were against.
The staunchly pro-Russian and anti-NATO Communists pledged to back Babis in exchange for positions in state-owned enterprises, giving them a role in government, albeit an informal one, for the first time since the Communist regime fell in the former Czechoslovakia.
“This situation is brand new, it’s a shift,” Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst from Palacky University in the eastern city of Olomouc, told AFP.
“But it’s not a revolution. The Communists have experience with such support and even governing on the regional and municipal level,” he added.
Several hundred protesters gathered outside parliament on Wednesday to protest against the Communist Party, echoing larger protests across the EU country in June.
When Babis walked out to meet the protesters, he was booed back into the parliament building. Media said some protesters threw plastic bottles at him.
Lebeda said he expected the cabinet to enjoy “basic stability for some time.”
“But a minority cabinet is always less stable, and this is also a coalition cabinet. Its stability won’t be too great,” he added.
Babis’s populist ANO (YES) movement won the October vote campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, but the tycoon has struggled to put together a viable coalition because of his murky past.
A Communist Party member in the 1980s, Babis has denied allegations that he served as a regime secret police agent before 1989.
A Slovak-born food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech, Babis is also indicted with EU subsidy fraud to the tune of two million euros ($2.4 million). He has denied any wrongdoing.
Babis’s first attempt to form a government failed in January when his minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts lost a confidence vote.
President Milos Zeman gave him a second chance in June after ANO clinched a minority coalition deal with the Social Democrats, with whom they governed as a junior partner from 2013 to 2017.
The cabinet is incomplete as Zeman refused to name Social Democrat Miroslav Poche foreign minister, with the job temporarily taken by party chairman and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek.
The pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim Zeman, who is also a former Communist, has slammed Poche over allegations of corruption and his tolerant stance on migrants.
Babis has vowed to fight illegal migration, a hot issue for the 10.6 million people in the republic, although very few asylum seekers made it to the country in the wake of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis.
The Czech Republic was among four hard-line anti-migrant eastern EU states that crowed victory last month over a controversial deal dropping the EU’s mandatory quota system in favor of measures designed to stem the influx of asylum seekers.


Resurfaced Biafran separatist leader claims he is in Israel

Nnamdi Kanu
Updated 26 min 41 sec ago
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Resurfaced Biafran separatist leader claims he is in Israel

  • I owe my survival to the State of Israel: Kanu
  • Kanu heads the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement

ABUJA: Missing pro-Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu gave a radio broadcast on Sunday saying he was in Israel, suggesting he owed his survival to the Jewish state.

Kanu, a former London estate agent, heads the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement and the outlawed pirate radio station Radio Biafra but has not been seen in public since September last year.

He maintains the Igbo people, who are in the majority in southeast Nigeria, are a lost tribe of Israel and it is his mission to lead them to the promised land of Biafra.

There had been fevered speculation that Kanu was in Israel after a video live-streamed on Friday via the Facebook accounts of his known associates appeared to show him praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, sparking questions over how he had managed to leave Nigeria.

Speculation 

Kanu is facing treason charges in his homeland and had been on bail at the time troops were deployed to his home city of Umuahia in Abia state, southeast Nigeria, in September 2017.

He then failed to show at his trial in the capital, Abuja, sparking speculation as to his whereabouts.

In Sunday’s broadcast on Radio Biafra, Kanu declared: “I’m in Israel.” 

“I owe my survival to the State of Israel,” he added, referencing the country’s Mossad spy agency but without specifying what kind of support Israeli authorities may have given him.

But he vowed to return to his homeland and called on his followers to boycott upcoming elections in Nigeria.

“I will be back soon in the land of Biafra and I will bring hell with me,” he said.

“IPOB will liberate Biafra and we will not take part in any elections until we get a referendum, it is not negotiable, we will do it by any means,” he added.

A previous unilateral declaration of independence by the Igbo people in 1967 sparked a brutal 30-month civil war that left more than one million dead.

Questions have been raised about how Kanu was able to get to Israel, as he had to surrender his Nigerian and British passports after his arrest.

In Friday’s video the man at the Western Wall bore a clear resemblance to Kanu and was dressed in sandals, white trousers, a white Jewish prayer shawl and skull cap.

Kanu’s younger brother, Prince Emmanuel Kanu, told AFP the footage was of his brother and was shot on Friday. He also spoke to him directly and said he was “fine.”