Reuters International

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech ruling parties tried to calm a public row on Friday, agreeing to submit new anti-smoking legislation after some coalition lawmakers torpedoed a government-backed bill this week, angering the prime minister.

The three-party centre-left coalition has operated relatively smoothly since taking power two years ago, presiding over a falling budget deficit and an economy that has grown at one of Europe's fastest rates.

But signs of friction have appeared several times between Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka's Social Democrats and billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babis's ANO party, the two leading parties in polls.

Sobotka berated some ANO members on Wednesday after they blocked a bill that would have banned smoking in restaurants and brought legislation in line with the European Union majority.

Sobotka had called the failed vote a "disgrace" and a violation of the coalition agreement, leading Babis to accuse the prime minister of "lying".

ANO defended its actions by saying the final bill was nothing like what was agreed in the cabinet due to concessions to opposition parties.

Officials eased the situation on Friday as party leaders agreed at a coalition meeting to re-submit the bill.

"We have a coalition agreement, I don't think it needs to be changed, it is good to read it from time to time and follow it," Sobotka told reporters alongside ANO's deputy chairman Jaroslav Faltynek.

Babis along with Christian Democrat chairman Pavel Belobradek skipped the meeting to keep scheduled events.

Opposition parties critised the no-smoking bill as an attack on personal freedom and burden for restaurant owners. Most Czechs, however, support the no-smoking push, according to surveys.

Analysts expect the coalition to hold together despite the latest crack.

Commentator Petr Honzejk of Hospodarske Noviny newspaper wrote on Friday that Babis, who has expressed frustration in the coalition in the past, did not have the will to bring the government down at the moment as he lacked other alliances.

Babis's ANO party finished a close second to the Social Democrats in a 2013 election. Regional polls in the autumn will be the first vote since then.

Babis remains the country's most popular politician but has been dogged by questions of conflict of interest as the owner of the vast chemicals, agriculture and media conglomerate Agrofert.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Ralph Boulton)


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