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Rights groups slam planned Prague visit by Uzbek leader

Thirty human rights groups Tuesday called on Czech President Milos Zeman to reconsider his plan to host his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, accused of serious rights abuses, on a state visit next week. The groups including Human Rights Watch and the Prague-based People in Need released an open letter to Zeman expressing their "surprise and deep concern" over the invitation. They called on Zeman to reconsider the invitation or to at least raise the human rights situation in the energy-rich central Asian state with Karimov during the visit.

Czech center-left leader becomes PM, seeking closer EU ties

By Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman appointed center-left leader Bohuslav Sobotka prime minister on Friday, opening the way for the former finance minister to pursue looser fiscal policies and closer links with the core of Europe. The 42-year-old trained lawyer was named nearly three months after his Social Democrat party narrowly won an early election, and two weeks after forming a coalition with two centrist parties.

Czech president says he will appoint new PM within days

By Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman will appoint Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka as prime minister within days, he told Reuters on Thursday, opening the way for a centre-left coalition to try to revive the economy after months of political stalemate.

Unravelling plot reveals tension at heart of Czech government

By Jan Lopatka and Christian Lowe PRAGUE (Reuters) - It had all the elements of a spy thriller: a convoy of cars with tinted windows, a Baroque castle outside the Czech capital, a clandestine meeting of senior politicians. This though was real, it happened late last month, and it was the culmination of a battle for power between the Czech President Milos Zeman and former allies who nearly ended his political career 10 years ago.

Czech president retains upper hand despite parliamentary defeat

By Jan Lopatka PRAGUE (Reuters) - Ultimately Czech President Milos Zeman couldn't quite beat the parliamentary arithmetic, but he still emerged on Wednesday with the upper hand over old political rivals in his remarkable comeback from the wilderness. While his prime minister lost a confidence motion, Zeman blithely told parliament before it had even voted that he would stay for some time - "even if you put me on the rack".

Czech president angers parties with power grab

By Jan Lopatka PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman is taking advantage of a political crisis to expand his powers, infuriating lawmakers who accuse him of undermining parliamentary democracy and jeopardizing the stability that has long made Prague a safe haven for investors. Zeman won the Czech Republic's first direct presidential election in January and since then has gone further than his predecessors - who were both chosen by parliament - in testing the limits of a role viewed hitherto as largely ceremonial.

Sceptical Czechs may be pushed to change tone on euro

By Jan Lopatka PRAGUE (Reuters) - When Czech President Milos Zeman said last week his country could join the euro by 2018, he met with little more than a shrug from the country's other political leaders who have shied away from setting a date. Yet his strongly pro-European views - he made a show of hoisting the European Union's flag for the first time at Prague Castle when he took office last month - may be a first sign that one of the EU's most reluctant members will change its tune.

Sceptical Czechs may be pushed to change tone on euro

By Jan Lopatka PRAGUE (Reuters) - When Czech President Milos Zeman said last week his country could join the euro by 2018, he met with little more than a shrug from the country's other political leaders who have shied away from setting a date. Yet his strongly pro-European views - he made a show of hoisting the European Union's flag for the first time at Prague Castle when he took office last month - may be a first sign that one of the EU's most reluctant members will change its tune.

Zeman sworn in as Europe-friendly Czech president

Europe-friendly leftist Milos Zeman was sworn in as Czech president on Friday, replacing ardent eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus and becoming the EU member state's first head of state elected in a direct vote. Zeman, 68, earned a standing ovation for his inaugural speech in which he vowed to play "the role of a mediator and moderator" in the republic's rough-and-tumble political scene. But analysts have warned that the veteran leftist is likely to engage in a tug-of-war with the wobbly and austerity oriented centre-right minority government of Prime Minister Petr Necas.

FACTBOX-Political risks to watch in the Czech Republic

By Jan Lopatka Prague, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The election of leftist Czech President Milos Zeman last week will bring more difficulties to the country's weakened centre-right cabinet, although he has no direct power to unseat the government. Zeman, prime minister in 1998-2002, made a political comeback when he beat Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg in the first-ever direct presidential election.
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