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Czech populist movement advances in regional elections

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Prague (AFP)

The Czech Republic's populist ANO movement has dominated regional elections, according to official results released Saturday, prompting speculation its leader -- influential Finance Minister Andrej Babis -- is eyeing the role of prime minister.

The ANO won nine out of 13 regions while the social-democratic CSSD of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka came top in just two regions, according to the statistics office, based on a nearly complete vote count.

Voter turnout however was low at around 34 percent.

"The result is very encouraging, also for me personally," said Babis, a billionaire who heads a major agro-food group and a media company. The Czech press say he has ambitions to become premier after legislative elections next year.

The current three-party coalition of the centre-left government formed in 2013 with the CSSD and the ANO, along with the Christian-democrat KDU-CSL, has been weakened by quarrels between the two principal parties.

Czech voters also chose senators in a first round ballot, with the ANO in the lead ahead of the second round vote set for October 14-15.

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