Czechs: to pick between Zeman, pro-western challengers in presidential vote

Bulgaria Czechs Head to the Polls to Elect President

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He said he considers Zeman a strong personality that polarises society but does not steal, is not afraid to say his opinion openly, is devoted to politics and fights for the interests of Czech businesspeople. They are also pivotal in forming governments - which the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member country are now trying to do. Nine candidates are in the running, including current president Miloš Zeman, who is seeking another five year term.

A win by any of Zeman's main rivals could mean that voices from the Czech leadership may shift closer to the European Union mainstream, in contrast to ex-communist neighbours such as Poland and Hungary, whose governments have clashed with Brussels.

A former centre-left prime minister, Zeman has sought more trade with China and was the only Western leader to attend a military parade in Beijing in 2015.

Zeman has been accused of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has called Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula an 'accomplished fact.' He has also been very critical in the EU's enablement of massive Islamic immigration.

Zeman's policy preferences prompted protest action on Friday by a topless activist from feminist movement Femen who jumped in front of the president shouting "Zeman - Putin's slut" at a polling station where he cast his vote.

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Femen, an worldwide feminist group that originated in Ukraine, said on its website that the woman was Ukrainian citizen Angelina Diash.

First-round voting ends at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Saturday, and results are expected later in the afternoon. Unless one candidate wins a majority of the vote, which seems rather unlikely now, the two most successful ones will meet in the runoff two weeks later.

He is a supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and similarly cultivates his appeal by sniping at the news media and what he calls intellectual elites.

Mayors and Independents (STAN) chairman Petr Gazdik said Babis preferred Zeman looking eastwards.

Zeman's most serious challenger is Jiri Drahos, 68, a chemical engineer and ex-head of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The two candidates with the strongest support will advance to the second round.

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But Prague wine bar owner Eva Simova, 53, told AFP that he was voting for Drahos: "He seems like an honest guy and what's more, I'm sick and exhausted of Zeman".

The CTK news agency pegged turnout at 40% after day one of voting.

The outcome may influence Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's chances of forming a cabinet, although his first attempt to rule in a minority administration is likely to be rejected by parliament next week.

The main reason why most other parties refuse to work with Mr Babis is that he faces investigation over whether he illegally tapped European subsidies as a businessman 10 years ago. The man now in the job - Milos Zeman - known for his outspoken anti-immigration views, is leading opinion polls. "Data also show a deepening rift between cities and the countryside". Babis said Thursday he'd vote for Zeman in the election.

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