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Czechs vote in Zeman as president

Ending a decade of leadership under Vaclav Klaus, Czechs have voted for the more EU favourable Milos Zeman.
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2013 20:32
New president Milos Zeman, a former premier, is expected to be pro-European as opposed to his predecessor [AFP]

Czechs have chosen the outspoken Milos Zeman, an ex-premier, as their new president in runoff of the EU republic's first direct election.

Zemen on Saturday beat opposition candidate, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, with a 54,8 percent win with almost all the votes counted.

"Milos Zeman has won, I acknowledge this, and I hope he will manage to be the president of all Czech people," Schwarzenberg, who garnered 45,17 percent, of the votes, conceded as the final results rolled in Saturday.

His victory ends a decade under strident eurosceptic outgoing 71-year-old President Vaclav Klaus, with 68-year-old Zeman, having a decidedly Europe-friendly approach.

In 1998-2002, Zeman's leftist government helped negotiate his country's 2004 EU accession and Zeman is now a self-described "euro-federalist".

"I promise that as a president elected in a direct vote by citizens, I will do my best to be the voice of all citizens," Zeman said in his victory speech at a Prague hotel, as overjoyed supporters chanted "Long live Zeman".

EU stance

"We can safely assume Milos Zeman will take a more favourable stance towards the EU," Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP news agency.

"Of course he is no hardline euro-optimist, but he will take a much more rational stance than Vaclav Klaus, he's a pro-European president," he said.

The campaign revolved around issues related to the EU, corruption, an economy in recession and painful austerity cuts in the Czech Republic, a central European country of 10,5m.

The Czech Republic, heavily reliant on car exports to western Europe, notably to Germany, sank into recession a year ago amid the eurozone crisis, after posting 1.9-percent growth in 2011.

A 0.9-percent contraction is forecast for 2012, ahead of a pickup to 0.2 percent growth this year. Unemployment stood at 9.4 percent in December.

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