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Czech Republic: Anti-immigration president seeks re-election

Czech Republic: Anti-immigration president seeks re-election

With 93 percent of the vote counted, Zeman, known for his anti-immigrant, pro-Russian, and pro-Chinese positions, had 39 percent of the vote.

After voting in Prague on Friday, Drahos said the future president "should work in the interest of the pro-Western orientation of the Czech Republic" in a clear dig at Zeman.

Indeed, the Czech president has become one of the most outspoken opponents of the European Union's sanctions against Moscow and his political ally, the newly appointed prime minister Andrej Babis, supports the president's vision. They are also pivotal in forming governments - which the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member country is now trying to do.

Opinion polls show Zeman remains the favourite, but may face a strong challenge in the second round, where the two strongest candidates go head to head.

Leading the charge against Mr Zeman is Jiri Drahos.

Polling stations closed at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).

Initial results indicating which two candidates are likely to contest the expected run-off are expected later Saturday. His first attempt to rule in a minority administration is likely to be rejected by parliament next week.

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The president has pledged to grant Babis a second chance to form a cabinet if he fails to win parliamentary approval on the first try.

Zeman has the backing of embattled billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who said the incumbent "fights for our national interests" but called on him to "unite, not divide" Czechs.

The Czech government is led by the prime minister, but unlike other countries where the president has a largely ceremonial role, the Czech president is involved in numerous country's political decisions. Like Slovakia and Hungary, the Czechs have clashed with the European Commission over their refusal to accept migrants under quotas set by a vote by EU leaders.

The vote, likely to end in a run-off in two weeks, is seen as a referendum on 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has harshly criticized migration from Muslim countries and is keen to boost ties with Russian Federation and China.

While he has won support among many Czechs by criticizing intellectual elites, they say he's sown doubt over whether the country of 10.6 million people should remain in the world's largest trading bloc.

"He managed to cast himself in the role of the speaker for those disenfranchised, forgotten members of the society", said Mr Stanislav Balik, a political scientist at Masaryk University in Brno. "Data also show a deepening rift between cities and the countryside".