Czech Ruling Party Removes Foreign Minister Critical of Russia
(Bloomberg) -- A party in the Czech Republic’s ruling coalition will remove the Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, the government’s most vocal critic of Russia’s efforts to take part in nuclear plant tender in the NATO member state.
The removal follows Petricek’s unsuccessful bid to replace Social Democratic Party Chairman Jan Hamacek in a vote last week. Petricek, 39, resigned from his post as vice chairman after the failed challenge and confirmed that Hamacek will ask Prime Minister Andrej Babis to replace him as minister.
“I did not hear any criticism of my work -- it’s a political decision and I respect that a new Social Democratic Party leadership wants to take this step,” Petricek said in a press briefing after meeting with Hamacek late Sunday. “I steadily continued to steer the helm of the country toward pro-European, western values.”
As part of the cabinet, Petricek was often criticized by President Milos Zeman, a staunch supporter of Russia, for his opinions about Moscow’s participation in a tender to build a new reactor at the Czech Republic’s Dukovany nuclear plant.
The president also criticized the foreign minister for opposing the use of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine without European Union approval -- a dispute that also clouded the replacement of the country’s health minister last week.
“It’s not a secret that I present a nuisance to the president, lately because of Dukovany and vaccinations, where I say clearly that state security and the safety of our citizens is the main priority,” Petricek said.
The popularity of the Social Democrats has plunged since the party joined Babis’s government in 2018. Opinion polls suggest that it may struggle to cross the 5% threshold to enter parliament in October’s general elections.
Hamacek said he had offered Petricek’s job to Culture Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, who ran the Foreign Ministry between 2014 and 2017.
“It’s an internal issue, and the decision was taken by the party’s new leadership,” Hamacek said at a briefing on Monday.
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