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Czech leader sacks industry minister for handling of mobile operators

Reuters

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Monday he was firing his industry minister, accusing him of getting a poor deal for mobile phone customers.

The removal of Jan Mladek comes just eight months before parliamentary elections, as Sobotka takes increasing aim at mobile operators. He said this month that Czech prices as a share of household spending were among the four highest in the European Union.

Sobotka told a news conference he had grown unsatisfied with the way Mladek handled the ministry, "especially when it comes to improving consumers' situation on the mobile services market."

He said he wanted to have a replacement in March. News website Aktualne.cz reported Tomas Prouza, who is the government's secretary of state for European Union affairs and runs the cabinet's digital agenda, was the likely candidate.

The three main mobile operators, O2 Czech Republic, T-Mobile and Vodafone, have come under increasing fire from politicians over their charges.

Mladek, a member of Sobotka's Social Democratic Party, has served in the center-left government since it was formed in January 2014. He rejected the criticism of his performance.

The Social Democrats trail Finance Minister Andrej Babis's ANO party by a wide margin in polls ahead of the October vote.

Babis and Mladek have often sparred with each other. On Monday, Mladek failed to push through a proposal for a state-owned mining company to buy insolvent hard coal miner OKD, which Babis opposed.

President Milos Zeman, an opponent of Sobotka, must sign off on the cabinet change and could delay or refuse to appoint Sobotka's proposed replacement.

Zeman's spokesman went on Twitter on Monday to criticize Prouza for his connections to groups opposed to Zeman.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Trevelyan; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Ralph Boulton)