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Czech Coalition Leader Resigns

February 20, 1998 GMT

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ In the latest of a series of financing scandals that have shaken the Czech government, the environment minister and leader of the ruling party coalition resigned Friday.

President Vaclav Havel, who was recovering from throat surgery in the hospital, accepted Jiri Skalicky’s resignation from the cabinet, his office said.

Skalicky, chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance, initially offered to quit last Monday after he said two Czech firms and the U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris donated nearly 6 million koruna ($176,000) to his party through a fictitious firm three years ago.

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All three companies have denied sending any donations to his party.

Havel asked the minister to reconsider, but Skalicky’s inability to explain the accusations increased the pressure on him to step down.

Skalicky’s move was the latest result of financing scandals that have rocked the Czech political elite since the country completed its transition from communist state-controlled economy to the free market.

Government posts in charge of selling off of state sectors to private investors have always been in the hands of the Civic Democratic Alliance, with Skalicky serving as privatization minister before the ministry was dissolved in early 1996.

Premier Vaclav Klaus was forced out of office Nov. 30 after it became publicly known that his party received 7.5 million koruna ($220,500) from a businessman who acquired a large stake in a big steel concern privatized by Klaus’ government.

Unlike Klaus’ Civic Democratic Party, Skalicky’s Civic Democratic Alliance is a member of the new government.

Late Thursday, Skalicky also announced he would quit as party chairman _ a decision likely to be accepted soon by the party’s decision-making body.