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Europe

Czech Premier Wins Party Leadership Battle

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek successfully defended his party's leadership Sunday, Dec. 7 a sign of continuity for the European Union as the Czech Republic prepares to chair the bloc and vote on its reform treaty.

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lives to fight another day

In a 284 -162 vote the Civic Democratic Party, which opposes deeper European integration, chose pragmatic treaty supporter Topolanek over his eurosceptic challenger, Prague Mayor Pavel Bem.

"Hopefully I will finally have a moment to prepare and gather strength for that half year, for which I feel great responsibility," Topolanek told reporters. The Czech Republic is set to take over at EU's helm from France on January 1.

But the premier still faces hurdles as his three-party center-right government has been significantly weakened.

Topolanek defeated Bem in a second blow to party's eurosceptic camp during this weekend's party congress.

On Saturday, President Vaclav Klaus, an outspoken EU critic and party's iconic founder, surprisingly cut his ties with the party he founded in 1991 and subsequently led for 12 years.

Lisbon Treaty a cause of friction in Czech government

Anti Lisbon Treaty graffiti on a wall in Dublin, Ireland

The Czech Republic has similar feelings to Ireland

The congress is also to vote later Sunday on a resolution asking Civic Democratic lawmakers to reject the Lisbon Treaty, a cause of split within the party.

While Klaus's followers oppose the accord, Topolanek, who governs with pro-European Greens and Christian Democrats, reluctantly signed the pact in December 2007 and has since backed it as a necessary evil.

The Czech Republic is the bloc's last member to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, which has been stalled since the Irish voters rejected it in a referendum last June.

The pact, aimed at streamlining decision-making in the 27-member union in a bid to make it a stronger global player, must have unanimous approval by all EU countries to become valid.

The Czech parliament's lower house is set to begin debating it on Tuesday. Klaus said he would sign the treaty only if Ireland reverses its No vote.

Topolanek survived his party's heavy losses in October regional and Senate elections, cementing party leadership until the next general election in 2010.

Topolanek consider coalition deal

Mirek Topolanek

Topolanek's shaky government will look to stabilize

The victory so far saved premier's shaky government. Topolanek said Sunday he soon plans to hold coalition talks on government's future, which could result in a government reshuffle or even bring the Civic Democrats to opposition.

The premier conceded that the upcoming EU presidency has protected his fragile government from a collapse.

"Perhaps only the Czech presidency and the economic threats next year are holding back all the players on the political scene," Topolanek said.

The governing parties fell out of voters' favor after they introduced several unpopular public finance reforms, such as direct fees in health care.

Government's strong support for placing a planned US missile defense radar base on Czech soil has been equally shunned by the public.

Topolanek has also angered voters by what they perceived as a rude and arrogant behavior, for which he apologized before the delegates.

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