Czech President Vaclav Klaus faces treason charge

Czech President Vaclav Klaus delivers his New Year's speech at Prague Castle, 1 January Mr Klaus announced the amnesty in a speech on New Year's Day

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Lawmakers have narrowly voted to charge outgoing Czech President Vaclav Klaus with high treason.

The upper house voted to refer the president to the constitutional court to rule on whether he had violated the constitution with a New Year amnesty.

The wide-ranging measures were controversial as they resulted in multiple high-profile corruption cases being suspended.

Mr Klaus's term as president of the country is due to end on Thursday.

Thirty-eight senators in the 81-seat house, controlled by the left-wing opposition, voted to impeach the president, with 30 voting against. Only the Senate has such power in the Czech legal system.

The worst punishment he faces is the loss of his presidential job, a role the 71-year-old must relinquish later this week having served two terms in office.

Corruption cases

The president's New Year measures included an amnesty for many prisoners.

Analysis

Impeachment is a big word for what even the most objective observers of Czech politics will admit was a political attack on the country's most controversial figure - the conservative, fiercely Eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus.

The Senate is packed with Mr Klaus's leftist opponents, and it is no accident that most of the 38 senators who voted in favour of the motion were opposition Social Democrats.

But few expected the motion to succeed. The fact that it did reflects the depth of feeling over Mr Klaus's New Year's Day amnesty, under which dozens of high-profile corruption cases were put on ice.

President Klaus said he had halted prosecution because the cases had dragged on for more than eight years; his opponents accused him of giving a get out of jail free card to those who embezzled money from the state.

It was not, however, the decision to free some 7,000 prisoners serving sentences of up to a year or cancel all suspended sentences, but rather the halting of the prosecution of cases that had dragged on for more than eight years that caused widespread public anger.

In one fell swoop, a dozen high-profile corruption cases - cases that involve millions of dollars in asset-stripping, bribes and fraud - were thrown out.

The halted prosecutions included that of prominent businessman Tomas Pitr for alleged tax fraud and that of former football association chief Frantisek Chvalovsky for embezzlement.

The senators also accuse Mr Klaus of flouting the constitution by refusing to ratify European treaties, and for refusing to rule on the appointment of judges despite being ordered by courts to do so.

The Eurosceptic president held up the ratification of Europe's landmark Lisbon Treaty, while demanding an opt-out for the country.

The BBC's Rob Cameron, in Prague, says that the Senate is dominated by leftist opponents of Mr Klaus, whose departure from office is imminent so this vote is a symbolic - albeit dramatic - end to his presidency.

Our correspondent adds that it is still unclear as to what exactly a guilty verdict would mean as Mr Klaus will no longer be in office when the constitutional court delivers its ruling, and the biggest sanction he would face is the loss of his presidential pension.

But, he adds, it would certainly be a stain on what is already a rather mixed legacy.

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