The Latest: Czech president willing to debate challenger


The Latest on the Czech Republic's presidential election (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Czech President Milos Zeman says he is ready to debate challenger Jiri Drahos before the second round of the country's presidential election in two weeks.

Zeman didn't take part in any public debates ahead of the first round vote he won on Saturday but without the majority he would have needed to avoid a runoff.

Zeman and Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, advanced to the second round scheduled for Jan. 26-27 because none of the nine presidential candidates received a majority of votes in the first round.

With ballots from 99 percent of polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office on Saturday, Zeman led with 38.8 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26.5 percent.

Zeman says he is ready "to meet (Drahos') request" to face each other.

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3:50 p.m.

Czech President Milos Zeman has failed to win re-election during the first round of voting and will face a runoff election in two weeks against the former head of the country's Academy of Sciences.

Zeman and Jiri Drahos advanced to the second round of the voting for the largely ceremonial post because none of the nine presidential candidates in the running achieved a majority.

With ballots from almost all polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office on Saturday, Zeman had a big lead with 40 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26 percent.

A former diplomat Pavel Fischer was a distant third with 10 percent,

The 73-year-old Zeman is considered a major pro-Russian voice in EU politics and 68-year-old Drahos is more western-oriented.

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2:45 p.m.

Voting has ended in the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election, and early results show the anti-migrant incumbent with a huge lead.

The Czech Statistics Office says President Milos Zeman had 43.8 percent of the vote with ballots from over 15 percent of polling stations counted on Saturday. Zeman, a former prime minister, was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote.

If the 73-year-old gets a majority in the first round, he will be elected outright. If not, the top two finishers in the nine-candidate contest will face each other in a runoff in two weeks.

His strongest challenger, former Czech Academy of Sciences head Jiri Drahos, was running a distant second on Saturday with 24.2 percent of the counted ballots. Former diplomat Pavel Fischer was third with 8.8 percent.

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11:05 a.m.

The Czechs are casting ballots for a second day in their presidential election.

President Milos Zeman, 73, is seeking re-election and is considered the favorite to win the first-round vote taking place Friday and Saturday.

The former president of the Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos, and popular song writer Michal Horacek are considered his major challengers among the eight other candidates.

If no candidate achieves a majority, the top two will face each other in a runoff in two weeks.

Zeman was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote, a victory that returned the former left-leaning prime minister to power.

In office, he's become known for strong anti-migrant rhetoric. He has divided the nation with his pro-Russian stance and his support for closer ties with China.


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