Several thousand people rallied in central Prague Sunday against the Czech Republic's billionaire prime minister and the way his government treats public institutions.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who has made his fortune as owner of the Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding, is facing police charges over an EU subsidy fraud.

The protesters gathered in Prague's Old Town Square
The protesters gathered in Prague's Old Town Square AFP / Michal Cizek

The EU has also launched a probe into his dual role as a politician distributing EU subsidies and entrepreneur getting them.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing in either case.

"We are here to oppose the Agrofert-isation of our country, an abuse of political power and targeted destruction of important democratic institutions," said Mikulas Minar, head of the Million Moments for Democracy movement, which organised the rally.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing over his handling of EU subsidies
Babis has denied any wrongdoing over his handling of EU subsidies AFP / Michal Cizek

"If this goes on, we might end up at the level of Hungary and Poland," he added, referring to two other ex-Communist EU members facing questions from Brussels over the state of their democracy.

The movement announced the rally following the appointment of 81-year-old Stanislav Krecek as the country's ombudsman. He was recommended for the role by the country's pro-Russian, pro-Chinese president, Milos Zeman -- an ally of Babis.

Protesters chanted "Babis is a thief" and "Shame" and waved banners calling on him to step down.

One man in the crowd, wearing a face mask, brandished a poster saying "Attention, Babis virus!" on the day the Czech Republic announced its first three cases of the new coronavirus.

Babis leads a minority government of his populist ANO movement and the leftwing Social Democrats, leaning on the far-left Communists for a majority in parliament.

A former Communist himself, Babis was listed as a secret Communist police collaborator in the 1980s.