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Prague demonstrators call for government's resignation

Up to 120,000 demonstrators in Prague have called for an end to austerity and for the government to resign amid bribery scandals.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Prague on Saturday calling for an end to austerity cuts, the resignation of the government and early parliamentary elections.

The demonstration was organized by unions and non-governmental groups who estimated the turnout at 120,000. This would make it the biggest street protest in 23 years, since the collapse of the communist government.

It comes at a critical time for the Czech Republic's centrist coalition government led by Prime Minister Petr Necas, who says the reforms are necessary to bring the budget deficit back below 3 percent of gross domestic product. He issued a statement Saturday saying he feels "a great responsibility for our country not to fall into a debt trap."

Possible early elections

The Czech government's future looks uncertain after several members of junior coalition partner Public Affairs quit last week after its informal chairman, Vit Barta, was convicted of paying bribes. Without Public Affairs, the government would lose its majority in the 200-seat lower house of parliament. The party is a junior member of the current government which came to power in 2010, alongside two conservative parties - Necas's Civic Democrats and TOP 09.

Unions warned the government they were ready to organize more radical protests, including a general strike, if their demands are not met.

"We'll paralyze the country until the government falls," said union leader Bohumir Dufek.

Elections in the Czech Republic are already planned for 2014, but the protests and scandals may bring the date ahead of schedule. Before the protests, Necas said if he doesn't have "clear information that the government has a secure majority by Monday at the latest, the right solution would be to hold early parliamentary elections in June."

Surveys in recent weeks indicate the opposition Social Democrats would take the most votes in an election ahead of the Communist Party, while Necas's Civic Democrats would fall back to third place.

jm/acb (dpa, AP, AFP)