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Czech presidential candidates seek calmer tone before run-off vote

Czech presidential candidates seek calmer tone before run-off vote
Czech presidential candidates seek calmer tone before run-off vote Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
By Reuters
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PRAGUE - Czech presidential frontrunner Petr Pavel urged his rival, ex-premier Andrej Babis, on Tuesday to stop fanning war fears while Babis said he would halt rallies due to threats against him and his family ahead of a run-off election this weekend.

After an increasingly testy home stretch of the campaign, Czechs head to the polls on Jan. 27-28 to choose between the two candidates vying to replace Milos Zeman, who has been a divisive figure as president for the past decade.

Czech presidents do not carry much day-to-day executive power but have a say in foreign policy, appoint prime ministers and central bank chiefs, and are powerful opinion makers.

Pavel, a retired general, and Babis were the leading vote-getters in a first round of the election earlier this month, and polling agencies tip Pavel, 61, winning the second round with 53-59% support.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine and soaring inflation have dominated the election.

Babis, 68, a billionaire who heads the biggest party in parliament, reported over the weekend that a bullet had been mailed to his wife. On Tuesday, he said he had received a letter threatening his life if he won the election.

"Let's stop the hate, the aggression," Babis told a news conference at which he said he would cancel a planned rally on Tuesday and would have no further campaign meetings.

He said he would still participate in television debates.

Babis, who is backed by Zeman, has sought to label Pavel as a threat to peace and put up billboards declaring "I will not drag Czechia into a war" and "I am a diplomat. Not a soldier".

He has said he is the candidate for peace, promising to hold a summit over Ukraine in Prague.

Pavel objected to Babis's campaigning on Tuesday, posting a Twitter message with "a call to A. Babis".

"As a result of your campaign, the conflict in society has reached a critical level and we must reduce it," Pavel said.

Pavel was a soldier dating back to the Communist era, but rose in the ranks after the 1989 democratic "Velvet Revolution".

In a television debate on Sunday night, Babis caused a stir by saying he would refuse to send troops to defend NATO allies Poland and the Baltics in case they were attacked. He later backtracked on those comments, saying he would respect NATO's mutual defence commitments.

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