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Originally published Friday, April 27, 2012 at 3:29 AM

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Czech and Romanian govts face confidence votes

Governments in Romania and the Czech Republic on Friday face no confidence votes with opposition parties tapping into widespread public anger over biting austerity measures, cronyism and corruption.

Associated Press

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BUCHAREST, Romania —

Governments in Romania and the Czech Republic on Friday face no confidence votes with opposition parties tapping into widespread public anger over biting austerity measures, cronyism and corruption.

Even if the centrist governments survive the votes in Parliament, they are likely to be weakened, as public anger grows over falling living standards and the way the two European Union nations are run.

The Czech government is expected to survive the vote, while the opposition in Romania is a couple of votes short of the 231 it needs to topple the government of Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.

Thousands have protested in both countries in recent months calling for their governments to abandon the belt-tightening measures and resign, in some of the biggest rallies seen since the overthrow of communism in 1989.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas vowed to continue with reforms and cuts if the government survives.

"We have to take the steps today. If we postpone them, we will have to adopt them anyway but they will be much more painful," he told lawmakers. "I'm asking for confidence from those of you who have the courage and will to support the reforms even if they are unpopular."

Bohuslav Sobotka, chairman of the major opposition Social Democrats, said it was not normal for the government "to exist when it ignores the mass protests of citizens in the streets."

The Czech government came under pressure this week after 100,000 people rallied in Prague on Saturday, calling on it to scrap the cuts and leave office. The rally energized trade unions which vowed to continue the protests.

The day after the Prague rally, leaders of the three Czech parties in the center-right government dissolved their coalition. The rupture was triggered when Vit Barta, a prominent member of the centrist Public Affairs party which ran on an anti-corruption ticket in 2010, refused to resign after being convicted of paying bribes.

Although the government lost its majority in the lower house, a group of lawmakers from Public Affairs immediately formed a new parliamentary group in support of the government.

Czechs are angry about a sales tax hike and an extra 7 percent income tax slapped on high earners. The government has also revised earlier promises to increase pensions and has introduced a new entrance fee for university students. Unions say health and pension reforms will hurt ordinary people most. The Social Democrats have surged in opinion polls.

In Romania, the government hiked the sales tax to 24 percent and slashed public sector wages by one-fourth to meet the conditions of a euro20 billion ($26 billion) bailout it took from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009.

Two weeks of sometimes violent protests in bitter January weather in more than a dozen Romanian cities led to the resignation of the Emil Boc government in February and gave fresh impetus to an opposition alliance that has been strengthened in recent days by daily defections from the ruling Democratic Liberal Party.

"We don't want any more dubious firms, no more selling under the market price and huge bribes as we have now," Victor Ponta, leader of the opposition Social Democracy Party, said in Parliament on Friday.

"We want transparency. It's not what the government earns today that counts, but what Romania earns tomorrow, and next year."

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Janicek reported from Prague.

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