Czechs rally against justice minister over explosion probe
PRAGUE (AP) — Thousands of people rallied against the Czech Republic’s justice minister Thursday, accusing her of undermining the independence of the country’s legal system and spreading misinformation about the investigation of a huge ammunition depot explosion allegedly caused by Russian spies.
The protesters in Prague called on Czech Justice Minister Marie Benesova to resign and said if she does not, they will hold more rallies across the country next week and march through the capital on June 1.
Benesova was the only member of the current coalition government who backed President Milos Zeman after he said that the 2014 blast could have been caused by human error or some other cause. The demonstrators repeatedly accused Zeman of treason.
Known for his pro-Russian views, Zeman claimed there was no conclusive evidence about the Russian involvement in the ammunition explosion. His words were widely repeated by Russian media and authorities.
All other government ministers, including Prime Minister Andrej Babis, as well as lawmakers and officials briefed on the investigation, said that’s not true.
Banesova, a close ally of the president, strongly criticized the country’s prosecutor general, Pavel Zeman, for his public comments on the blast investigation. The prosecutor general resigned from his post last week, citing pressure from the justice minister.
The demonstrators demanded leaving the naming of a new prosecutor general until after the next general election, set for October.
Czech leaders said on April 17 that they had evidence pointing to the participation of two agents from Russia’s military spy agency in the depot explosion that killed two people. Russia has denied that.
The same two Russians were charged by British authorities in absentia in 2018 with trying to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury.
The findings resulted in a serious diplomatic crisis between the Czech Republic and Russia, with dozens of diplomats ordered to leave their respective embassies.