The Social Democrats have given their endorsement to Miloš Zeman, a former leader of the party, for the presidency. Earlier, the party’s own candidate Jiří Dientsbier had said both Mr. Zeman and Mr. Schwarzenberg were essentially right-wing. Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats’ Přemysl Sobotka and Zuzana Roithová of the Christian Democrats have given their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg.
Miloš Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg will go into a two-candidate runoff in the first Czech direct presidential election in two weeks’ time. Mr. Zeman, a former prime minister, received 24.21 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Schwarzenberg, who is foreign minister and chairman of the TOP 09 party, with 23.40 percent and Jan Fischer on 16.35 percent. Mr. Fischer, who is also a former prime minister, had been ahead in opinion polls for a long period but was overtaken by Mr. Zeman in the polls and seemed to lose a good deal of support in the final days before the first-round vote. Turnout in Friday and Saturday’s vote was 61 percent. The winner will succeed Václav Klaus, who steps down in early March.
Over 500 Czechs cast their ballots in the presidential election in the United States and Canada. The figure represents less than half the number of registered Czech voters in both countries and was lower than in the last Czech parliamentary elections. Voting began in the Western Hemisphere on Thursday, with the first Czechs going to the polls at the country’s diplomatic offices in Brazil and Argentina. Some 54.28 percent of Czech voters living abroad gave their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg, while Mr. Zeman came second among them, with 10.11 percent.
The two candidates heading into the runoff have already begun battling for supremacy. In a news conference at his election headquarters, Karel Schwarzenberg described Mr. Zeman as a man of the past (he also sang the Czech national anthem). The latter replied about an hour later by saying that Mr. Schwarzenberg was a man of the present, in that he was responsible for the actions of the current government, including tax rises, pension reform and church restitution. He also highlighted the link between his opponent and his TOP 09 colleague Miroslav Kalousek, who is seen as the de facto head of the party and as finance minister is the chief architect of the financial reforms. Mr. Zeman said the runoff would be a left-right vote along the lines of the Hollande-Sarkozy battle for the presidency in France last year.
The striker David Lafata has joined Sparta Prague from Jablonec in a three-and-a-half-year deal. Lafata, who is 31, has been the leading scorer in Czech soccer’s top tier for the last two seasons and heads the goals chart this term with 13 so far. The forward has made 23 appearances for the Czech national team and joins Sparta at a time when the club is third in the domestic league and preparing to face Chelsea in the Europa League.
President Vaclav Klaus has signed into law a bill which will raise the salaries of judges and state attorneys. The bill sets a new legal framework for the calculation of salaries in 2013 after the former framework was abolished by the Constitutional Court. In line with the new law judges will receive 2.7 times the average wage in the public sector.
Members of the public and the arts world gathered at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre at midday on Friday to pay their last respects to the legendary Czech actress Jiřina Jirásková who died on Monday at the age of 81. This was followed by a private memorial service for invited guests which was broadcast live by Czech public television and later in the afternoon Cardinal Dominik Duka celebrated a mass for the late actress at Prague’s Týn Church. Ms. Jirásková spent 60 years on stage at Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre and starred in dozens of Czech films.
Czechs are voting in the country’s first direct presidential elections. They are choosing from nine candidates to elect a successor to the outgoing president, Vaclav Klaus, whose second term in office ends in March. Polling stations are open from 2pm until 10 pm on Friday and from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 25-26. The turnout in these elections is expected to be higher than usual.
Czech retail sales dropped by 1.8 percent year on year in November after a 2.2 percent growth seen in October, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Friday. The fall is ascribed to lower car sales and lower sales of household equipment. Food sales continued to drop both in specialised and non-specialised stores and after thirteen months of continual growth sales of clothing and footwear also dipped slightly. Seasonally adjusted sales decreased by 0.6 percent in real terms against October.
Polish authorities have confirmed that Czech-made bootleg liquor laced with large amounts of methanol was behind the deaths of three Polish people living close to the common border. The tragedy occurred on Christmas day when three members of a Polish family, mother, son and daughter, drank liquor from a bottle that they’d previously bought in the Czech Republic. The highly publicized scam, in which bootleggers used the deadly methanol in place of ethanol to save money, has claimed 39 lives in the Czech Republic. 70 people have been charged in connection with the case.
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