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Russia-friendly Czech president faces pro-EU rival in run-off

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Russia-friendly Czech president faces pro-EU rival in run-off

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A clear choice lies ahead for the Czech Republic after the first leg of its presidential election.

The two finalists - pro-Russia incumbent Milos Zeman and pro-EU academic Jiri Drahos - will go head to head two weeks from now.

With votes from 98.9 percent of districts counted, Zeman led the first round race with 38.6 percent of votes, while Drahos had won 26.6 percent.

Zeman, in office since 2013, has criticised immigration flows from Muslim countries.

While most Czechs share his views on immigration, Zeman's inclination towards far-right groups and his warm relations with Russia and China have split public opinion.

Having shunned public debates so far, the 73-year-old has now agreed to a television duel with his rival, saying he hopes voters can make up their own minds.

Challenger Drahos, 68, looks set to pick up many votes from those who had supported now-eliminated candidates. As such, victory for him looks within reach.

But Drahos is not taking anything for granted.

"Now we expect the most difficult match - the match with Milos Zeman and his advisers," he told supporters as the first round results emerged.

"I will conclude as I have in recent debates - whoever calls for change: go and vote, go and vote, go and vote!"

Czech presidents have limited executive powers, but they are pivotal in forming governments -- something the EU member country is now trying to do.

The second round is due to be held on Jan. 26-27.

with Reuters