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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 19:27 GMT
Czechs elect leader at third try
Vaclav Klaus before the election
Vaclav Klaus was third time lucky in the race to become Czech president
Former conservative Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has been elected as Czech president to succeed Vaclav Havel.

Mr Klaus beat the candidate of the centre-left coalition government, Jan Sokol, in a third and final round of voting in the parliament.

It was the third time in six weeks Czech MPs had met to try to elect a president.

I want to assure the citizens of the Czech Republic that in this post I'm prepared not to disappoint any among the 10 million of them
Vaclav Klaus
The country had been without a head of state since the beginning of February, when Vaclav Havel stepped down after 13 years in the post.

In the third round, Mr Klaus won 142 votes in the 281-member parliament, giving him the simple majority of all deputies he needed, according to unofficial results.

Mr Klaus, who was standing for the third time, had won the most votes in the two previous elections, and in the first two rounds of voting on Friday, but not enough to win.

'Not a success'

In a short speech after the vote, he promised to co-operate with parliament and government.

"I also want to assure the citizens of the Czech Republic that in this post I'm prepared not to disappoint any among the 10 million of them," he said.

However, the BBC's Alix Kroeger says Mr Klaus' election will put further pressure on an already fragile governing coalition.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, while promising he would congratulate the president-elect, said the vote was "not a success" for the ruling coalition.

The vote is also a blow to former President Havel, who has had an often stormy relationship with Mr Klaus.

Call for change

Mr Klaus was up against Jan Sokol, a university professor and former education minister.

The government coalition enjoys a slim majority in both houses of parliament, which should have given Mr Sokol a good chance.

But several coalition deputies refused to give Mr Sokol their backing.

Mr Havel - a former jailed dissident who became president after the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 - completed the maximum allowed two terms in office on 2 February.

Analysts say parliament was under increasing pressure to elect a president in time for a possible US-led war on Iraq.

The president's post is largely ceremonial, but the president is the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces.

Vaclav Havel: End of an era
02 Feb 03 |  Europe
Timeline: Czech Republic
04 Feb 03 |  Country profiles

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