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Czech president appoints adviser as new PM

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KAREL JANICEK | June 25, 2013 12:15 PM EST | AP

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PRAGUE — The left-leaning Czech president on Tuesday appointed his economic adviser as the country's new prime minister, setting up a stand-off with majority center-right political parties who say they won't back him in a confidence vote.

President Milos Zeman was tasked this week with appointing the country's new leader and cabinet after conservative Prime Minister Peter Necas resigned last week amid a spying and bribery scandal.

Zeman's choice of Jiri Rusnok, who served as finance minister in Zeman's government in 2001-02, sparked anger from Necas' outgoing coalition, which still holds a majority in Parliament.

Under the Constitution, the president is mostly a ceremonial leader but has the power to pick the prime minister. It is unusual, however, for the president to ignore a parliamentary majority. Zeman has been repeatedly critical of the government.

The three coalition partners had approved parliamentary speaker Miroslava Nemcova – a member of Necas' conservative Civic Democratic Party – as their candidate for premier. They declared Tuesday they were ready to stay in power, suggesting that they would refuse to approve Rusnok.

Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek called Rusnok "an irresponsible friend of an irresponsible president."

The dispute sets up a potentially long battle that could leave the Czech Republic without a government.

"They both have to know that such a government has no chance to win confidence in Parliament," Kalousek said. "They are well aware that such a government has no chance to push through the budget. The only government that is capable of winning confidence and approving the budget is the government of Miroslava Nemcova."

Nemcova called the move "an irresponsible step."

"It is (the president's) fault that we're wasting time," he said.

Besides serving as finance minister, Rusnok worked as industry and trade minister in another government led by Zeman's Social Democrat party. He currently chairs the board of a pension fund.

Rusnok said he would act quickly to have his government sworn in in two weeks.

Both, Zeman and Rusnok said it is a priority for it to prepare the 2014 state budget. "It's the key task," Rusnok said.

Necas resigned after police arrested eight people, including his closest aide, who was charged with bribery and ordering a military intelligence agency to spy on Necas' estranged wife.

Any new government would have to win a parliamentary confidence vote to rule until elections due in May 2014. Another option is for Parliament to call early elections, a solution preferred by the major opposition Social Democrats who would stand a very good chance to win the ballot, according to public polls.

Among other major tasks, the new government will oversee a choice of the winning bid in an international tender to build two more nuclear reactors at the Temelin nuclear power station operated by the state-run power company CEZ.

U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co., a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp. and a consortium led by Russia's Atomstroyexport are fighting to win the lucrative contract estimated to be worth more than $10 billion. The deal is scheduled to be signed by the end of 2013.

People in Zeman's inner circle have close business ties with Russia and an analyst previously told the Associated Press he might be an advocate of closer relations with Russia.

Rusnok said Tuesday it was too early for him to comment on the tender.