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Leftist elected as Czech president

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 7:58 p.m.

PRAGUE — A left-leaning ex-prime minister staged a big return to power on Saturday by winning the Czech Republic's first directly elected presidential vote.

With all the votes counted, Milos Zeman won 54.8 percent of the vote for the largely ceremonial post, the Czech Statistics Office reported. His opponent, conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, had 45.2 percent.

“Long live Zeman!” his supporters chanted at his campaign headquarters in Prague.

“I promise that as a president elected in a direct popular vote, I will try to be the voice of all citizens,” Zeman said.

Voters seemed to punish Schwarzenberg for the government's unpopular austerity cuts that aimed to reduce the budget deficit.

“It definitely didn't help me,” Schwarzenberg said, adding he will continue to serve as foreign minister.

Since Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech Republic has had two presidents elected by Parliament: Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus. Bickering during those votes led lawmakers to give that decision to the public.

The 68-year-old Zeman will replace the euro-skeptic Klaus.

Zeman is considered more favorable toward the 27-nation European Union, to which the country belongs. People in his inner circle have close business ties with Russia so “he might become an advocate of closer relations with Russia,” said Josef Mlejnek, an analyst from Prague's Charles University.

Zeman is not opposed to pre-emptive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and opposes Kosovo's independence.

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