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Czech Parliament Elects Klaus as New President - 2003-03-01

The Czech Parliament has elected former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus as the country's new president. Mr. Klaus will replace Vaclav Havel, the former dissident playwright who led the so-called Velvet Revolution that forced out the Communist government in 1989.

Vaclav Klaus was chosen as president with 142 votes in the 281-seat parliament, in a third and final round of voting. Friday's election was the third attempt to replace former President Vaclav Havel, who was forced to step down on February 2 because the constitution barred him from seeking a third term in office.

In the two previous ballots, Mr. Klaus finished first, but failed to gain enough votes in parliament to achieve the majority required to win. Friday's result marked a major political comeback for the 61-year-old Mr. Klaus, who became Czech prime minister in 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He served until he lost power in 1998.

Although Mr. Klaus has been credited with reintroducing market reforms to the country following the demise of the communist regime, he was often criticized by former president, Vaclav Havel for what he considered tough economic, conservative and even nationalistic policies.

Mr. Klaus is known to have been an admirer of conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.