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Czech Republic: Anti-immigration president seeks re-election

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Czech Republic: Anti-immigration president seeks re-election

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Czechs are voting for a new president on Friday and Saturday.

The man currently in the job - Milos Zeman - known for his outspoken anti-immigration views, is leading opinion polls.

But the 73-year-old could face a tough challenger in a run-off two weeks from now, in the shape of academic Jiri Drahos, former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

"I want to bring a completely different style of presidency, bring people together, not label them, a clear embedding of the Czech Republic in Europe, with NATO and the EU as allies, not China," Drahos, 68, said in an interview at www.dvtv.cz news website earlier in January.

Zeman has sharply criticised immigration from Muslim countries and linked it to security threats. His reelection would reflect a eurosceptic stance by most Czechs and the public's rejection of accepting migrants and refugees.

He has the support of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Political analyst Josef Mlejnek, from Charles University in Prague explained that Zeman's rivals are seeking votes from different strands of the electorate to him.

"They are targeting liberal voters from the cities. That's true about Jiri Drahos, Michal Horacek and Pavel Fischer. And then there is Mirek Topolanek, targeting the voters of the conservative Civic Democratic Party that he used to lead. But anyway he is targeting different voters to Zeman," Mlejnek said.

The Czech presidency is largely ceremonial but the president's role is pivotal when governments are formed, a process the EU member country is going through at the moment.

The head of state is also an influential opinion maker and represents the country abroad - a role that Zeman has used to beef up relations with China and Russia while devoting less time to the country's western allies.

One factor hurting Zeman, a heavy smoker with self-professed affinity for alcohol, has been his health. He has difficulties walking connected with diabetes and has at times looked frail. His doctors said on Tuesday he was fit for another term.

with Reuters