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Klaus Sworn in as Czech President - 2003-03-07

Former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has been sworn in as the country's new president. Mr. Klaus succeeds the most famous politician in the republic, Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright turned politician.

The former prime minister became president at a ceremony Friday in Prague Castle, which overlooks the capital of the Czech Republic.

In his remarks, President Klaus said that his immediate priority is overseeing the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union next year.

Gaining the presidency marks a major comeback for Mr. Klaus, who resigned as prime minister in 1997 after his party was embroiled in a corruption scandal.

He was elected president last Friday by the Czech parliament, which had failed in two previous attempts to elect a successor to Mr. Havel, who left office early in February. Mr. Havel served two five-year terms as president, the maximum allowed by the Czech constitution.

Critics of Mr. Klaus say he lacks the charisma of Mr. Havel. The two politicians clashed frequently during the years each was in power. When Mr. Klaus was prime minister, Mr. Havel accused him of being nationalistic and promoting a system where only political parties, and not various civic groups, have a say in public affairs.

However, Mr. Klaus suggested in an interview with Radio Prague that he is not afraid of being compared with his world famous predecessor. "I take it as a great honor to be elected president of this country," he said. "And I will try to be a good president of this country. I am not afraid of being compared with anyone."

Even though his long-time rival has retired from the political scene, Mr. Klaus is not expected to have an easy time as president. He is a strong proponent of free market economics and is likely to have a rocky relationship with the center-left government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla.