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Czech senate impeaches outgoing president Vaclav Klaus

The Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic [official website] on Monday voted to impeach outgoing President Vaclav Klaus [official website, in Czech] for charges of treason. After a 38 to 30 vote [Reuters report], the Senate filed a complaint in the Constitutional Court [official website, in Czech] averring that Klaus violated the constitution by refusing to appoint judges, refusing to ratify European treaties after adoption by the Senate and declaring a broad and controversial amnesty [materials, in Czech] in January. According to media sources, Klaus pardoned all convicts with prison sentences under a year [Economist report], leading to the release of more than 6,000 prisoners, or one quarter of the nation's imprisoned. In addition, the amnesty declaration halted all criminal proceedings lasting longer than eight years, including several high-profile fraud and embezzlement cases allegedly arising out of Klaus' own economic reforms. After two months of contention, the Senate voted to impeach Klaus. The Constitutional Court has given the case top priority, but reports indicate that the proceeding will be predominantly ceremonial, as the highest potential penalty is removal from office, and Klaus' term ends on Thursday. The Czech Republic held its first ever direct presidential election in January.

Klaus' presidency has encountered controversy in the past, particularly over matters concerning treaty ratification. The Czech Republic was the last EU member state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon [BBC backgrounder] in 2009, which sought to amend the treaties forming the constitutional basis of the European Union. In November 2009, Klaus signed the treaty [JURIST report] after the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the treaty did not conflict with the country's constitution. Klaus maintained his position that the court's decision was political and that the treaty interfered with Czech sovereignty. The treaty had passed both the lower and upper houses of the Czech Parliament in February and May 2009, but Klaus sought an opt-out clause [JURIST reports] that would shield the country from property claims by ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II.

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