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Czechs selecting new president to succeed Milos Zeman

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czechs were casting ballots in the presidential election on Saturday, picking a successor to Milos Zeman in the largely ceremonial post.

Populist billionaire Andrej Babis is leading a field of eight candidates in two days of voting that will be completed Saturday.

Babis, a former prime minister, was acquitted this week in a fraud trial, which boosted his chances of winning in the first round of the presidential election.

If no candidate achieves a majority, as polls have indicated, the top two finishers will face each other in a runoff in two weeks’ time.

A court in Prague acquitted Babis, 68, on Monday of fraud charges in a $2 million case involving EU subsidies. The prosecution can still appeal. Babis had pleaded not guilty and repeatedly said the charges against him were politically motivated.

Despite a number of scandals, his popular support remains strong, particularly among older voters.

Retired army Gen. Petr Pavel, 61, a former chairman of NATO’s military committee; and former university rector and economist Danuse Nerudova, 44, are Babis’ main challengers.

Polls indicate that none of the remaining candidates is likely to make the runoff.

Babis, whose centrist ANO (YES) movement ended up in opposition after losing the 2021 general election, is supported by Zeman, with whom he shares euroskeptic views and the habit of using anti-migrant rhetoric.

Zeman was the first president elected by popular vote. His second and final five-year term expires in March.

Lawmakers elected the previous two presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.

The Associated Press

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