Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

PRAGUE — Over the previous 10 years, Czech President Milos Zeman has courted controversy, looking for a referendum on whether or not his nation ought to go away the European Union, focusing on migrants and joking about killing journalists.

Many Czechs cheered the departure of their outgoing head of state Wednesday.

A bunch of a few hundred activists marched to the beat of drums from Prague Citadel, the seat of the presidency, to the medieval Charles Bridge earlier than burning an effigy of Zeman and throwing it into the Vltava River.

Zeman’s departure is “an enormous aid,” mentioned Tana Janatova, an organizer. It is “a catharsis, and a pleasure, a pleasure!”

Zeman will likely be changed within the largely ceremonial put up by retired military basic Petr Pavel, who beat a populist billionaire within the second spherical of presidential elections on Jan 28. Pavel formally takes over Thursday.

In his two consecutive phrases in workplace, Zeman, 78, has polarized public opinion. A divided nation to which he contributed would be the most seen legacy of his reign whereas a lot of his political agenda at dwelling and overseas failed.

Whereas his predecessors, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, had been elected by Parliament, when former prime minister Zeman took the workplace in 2013 it was in a direct vote by the Czech public. His ally Andrej Babis — who unsuccessfully ran in opposition to Pavel in January — turned finance minister the identical yr earlier than later assuming the put up of prime minister.

“It turned out {that a} instantly elected president can flip semi-dictator if he has the desire and faces a weak opponent within the prime minister,” mentioned Vera Kovarova, a deputy speaker of Parliament’s decrease home from the STAN get together.

Zeman was thought of extra pro-European than his euroskeptic predecessor Klaus, however step by step used each alternative to assault the EU, together with its plan to deal with local weather change. After Britain determined to depart the EU, he proposed a referendum on the nation’s membership within the bloc — whereas saying he would vote to remain.

He additionally sought nearer ties with China and have become a number one pro-Russian voice in EU politics.

His critics known as him “a servant of the Kremlin” after he sided with Russia and forged doubt on the findings of his nation’s personal safety and intelligence companies on the alleged participation of Russian spies in an enormous 2014 ammunition explosion.

After Russia invaded Ukraine final yr, Zeman condemned the “unprovoked act of aggression,” however he had opposed the preliminary EU sanctions in opposition to Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Zeman declared he would deal with financial diplomacy however his guarantees of Chinese language investments value billions of {dollars} by no means materialized and his hopes to spice up ties with Russia got here to an entire finish with the invasion of Ukraine.

On the twenty fifth anniversary of the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution that yr, protesters pelted him with eggs, sandwiches and tomatoes, accusing him of betraying the dedication to human rights enshrined by Havel, the hero of the revolution.

Zeman was one of many few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for the White Home and assist his choice to maneuver the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. His pro-Israeli views had been maybe the one a part of his overseas coverage that was positively welcomed in his nation, which is likely one of the strongest allies of Israel within the EU.

Amongst different controversial acts, Zeman additionally linked Islamic extremist assaults in Europe to immigration, which he has described as an “organized invasion.” And he made derogatory feedback concerning the #MeToo motion and transgender folks, and vowed to veto laws permitting same-sex marriages ought to or not it’s permitted by Parliament.

The media introduced one other goal. On his first day in workplace, Zeman mentioned some journalists “brainwash” and “manipulate public opinion.” He informed Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout a gathering in China that there have been too many journalists and a few needs to be “liquidated.”

At dwelling, Zeman was accused of making an attempt to regulate the Structure to his personal wants. In 2019, the higher home of Parliament, the Senate, voted to cost him with failing to behave in keeping with the Structure in eight instances, together with a repeated failure to nominate proposed authorities ministers. However the decrease home dominated by Babis’ get together didn’t comply with go well with and the case was by no means despatched to the Constitutional Courtroom for a ultimate verdict.

In 2013, following the collapse of a authorities, Zeman ignored a coalition that had a majority in Parliament and named a brand new authorities of technocrats led by his adviser as prime minister. Most constitutional legal professionals and consultants mentioned he had no proper to do it.

That Cupboard misplaced a confidence vote however remained in energy for half a yr till an early election, pushing a few of Zeman’s initiatives, together with a synthetic waterway that might hyperlink rivers in Austria, Poland and Czechia. Consultants dismissed the undertaking as unrealistic and it was not too long ago fully deserted by the present authorities.

Zeman is a sequence smoker with a mushy spot for alcohol however has mentioned he modified his habits an his medical doctors’ recommendation. He has diabetes, has bother strolling and has been utilizing a wheelchair.

Zeman has mentioned he’ll settle in his new dwelling close to the presidential chateau in Lany, west of Prague, and he’s planning to open an workplace presumably close to Prague Citadel.

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