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Czech president nixes Cabinet nominee; move could fold govt

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech president refused to appoint a candidate for a Cabinet post Wednesday, deepening a political crisis that could cause the country's coalition government to fall. Prime Minister Andrej Babis nominated the candidate to replace the culture minister he asked to have removed in May at the request of a partner party in the governing coalition, the Czech Social Democratic Party.

Cabinet changes are generally a routine matter. Under the Czech Constitution, the president is supposed to comply with the prime minister's appointment requests. President Milos Zeman initially hesitated but then fired Culture Minister Antonin Stanek at the end of July. But Zeman said Wednesday he didn't think the person nominated to take Stanek's place was "competent" for the job.

The proposed replacement, Michal Smarda, is Social Democratic Party deputy chairman. The president said Smarda has no experience with cultural affairs. The Social Democrats have said Smarda's appointment was a condition for staying in the government. If they pull out, it could lead to an early election.

Babis said he would meet with party chairman Jan Hamacek next week. Hamacek told Czech public television Wednesday he was not ready to consider a candidate other than Smarda. The Social Democrats pushed for Stanek's ouster after he fired two directors of state-run art galleries in April, moves that were met with a wave of protests.

Last month, the Czech Senate, voted to bring charges against Zeman for allegedly violating the constitution by repeatedly failing to appoint proposed government ministers. A three-fifths majority in Parliament's lower house would have to approve the Senate's request for the country's Constitutional Court to take up the case.

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