Mob-style threats precede second Czech presidential vote

(dpa) - It was shaping up as a rather dull election in a small central European country - until Czech lawmakers began to receive bullets in their mail and the premier accused former high- ranking intelligence officer of involvement in manipulating the vote.

Mafia-style threats have preceded in the days before the country's 281 members of bicameral parliament were to convene a joint session Friday for another go at electing a new Czech president.

The choice boils down to frontrunner eurosceptic incumbent Vaclav Klaus, 66, underdog pro-European Czech-US economist Jan Svejnar, 55, and a last-minute tactical add-on - conservative Member of European Parliament (MEP) Jana Bobosikova, 43.

So far three members of lower house and two senators - all known to have been clear or potential supporters of the incumbent - have received bullets in their mail, while two senators found gun powder sprinkled in letters threatening them, officials said.

Politicians of all stripes have rushed to condemn such practices. Some pitched in accounts of pre-election threats in their own mail or mobile phone mail boxes.

One senator claimed to have been offered an 88,800-dollar bribe by a colleague from the Klaus camp during the fruitless first presidential vote on Friday.

Tensions intensified after Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek accused a former high-ranking intelligence officer, whom his cabinet had sacked, and an opposition aide of rigging the voting process.

The premier said that the duo - which rejected his claims - was behind a press leak of security-camera images capturing a meeting between incumbent's chancellor and an influential lobbyist in a Prague hotel.

The news of the suspicious meeting had triggered demands among lawmakers to vote by open ballot, which is considered to have cost Klaus a speedy re-election in the first presidential vote Friday and Saturday.

Meanwhile, the pariahs of the Czech politics, the Communists, whose 29 votes in both houses could help elect either Klaus or Svejnar have risen the stakes.

They broadened the pool of candidates to three by nominating former television journalist turned conservative MEP Bobosikova. Hers is a last-minute tactical candidacy.

The Communists chiefly want the rest of the anti-Klaus camp - the opposition Social Democrats and the junior ruling Greens - to block the bilateral treaties on hosting the US missile-shield base on Czech soil once they reach parliament in the spring.

If the anti-Klaus camp accepts their demands, the Communists would drop their candidate and back Svejnar. If not, their votes for Bobosikova would help Klaus to win re-election.

While the Social Democrats have agreed, the Greens have so far rejected bartering the US radar for unseating highly-divisive Klaus, whose global-warming doubt motivated them to come up with challenger Svejnar in the first place.

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