PRAGUE  - Czechs chose outspoken veteran leftist Milos Zeman, an ex-premier, as their new president in the Saturday runoff of the EU republic’s first direct election, defeating Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, an aristocrat. The burly, silver-haired Zeman garnered 54.82-per cent support with virtually all votes counted, against 45.17 per cent for Schwarzenberg, having also won the January 11-12 first round in a field of nine rivals. “Milos Zeman has won, I acknowledge this, and I hope he will manage to be the president of all Czech people,” Schwarzenberg conceded as the final results rolled in Saturday.

 His victory ends a decade under strident eurosceptic outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, 71, with Zeman, 68, having a decidedly Europe-friendly approach. In 1998-2002, Zeman’s leftist government helped negotiate his country’s 2004 EU accession and Zeman is now a self-described “euro-federalist.” “I promise that as a president elected in a direct vote by citizens, I will do my best to be the voice of all citizens,” Zeman said in his victory speech at a Prague hotel, as overjoyed supporters chanted “Long live Zeman”. “We can safely assume Milos Zeman will take a more favourable stance towards the EU,” Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP.