October 16, 2018 / 11:20 AM / a month ago

Czech president appoints foreign minister after months of wrangling

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Tomas Petricek was appointed to be the Czech Republic’s foreign minister on Tuesday, filling the last spot in the centre-left government after months of wrangling over who would best maintain the country’s tough stance on migration.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority government, led by his ANO party, took power in June, but it has been without a full-time foreign minister since Czech President Milos Zeman Zeman rejected the choice of the junior coalition member, the Social Democrats, for the position.

Social Democrat leader Jan Hamacek had served as both foreign and interior ministers.

Zeman objected to the Social Democrats’ first choice, party member and European parliamentarian Miroslav Poche, after he said during the European Union’s migration crisis that his country should take in asylum seekers.

That went counter to government policy. The Czech Republic has stood alongside other central European countries in rejecting taking in migrants and opposing Brussels’ past efforts to impose mandatory quotas for refugees among member states.

Petricek, 37 and a relative newcomer to foreign policy, has spoken in favour of helping refugees in camps outside the EU, more in line with Babis’s foreign policy.

He has also said EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict should stay in place, backing the government’s stance, although Zeman has spoken against the measures.

Petricek was named a deputy foreign minister in August 2018 and had previously worked as a deputy labour minister. He also served as an assistant and advisor to Poche.

On Tuesday, Zeman expressed hope that Petricek could contribute to foreign policy unity.

“The Czech foreign policy has to be united in order to have any meaning,” Zeman said at the naming ceremony.

Reporting by Robert Muller, editing by Larry King

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