Czech president impeached for high treason over release of 6,000 prisoners

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The upper house of the Czech parliament has impeached outgoing president Vaclav Klaus for high treason, a dramatic but largely symbolic act that shows just how deeply the Eurosceptic leader angered his left-wing opponents.

The 38-30 vote by the Senate, dominated by the Left, refers the president to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on whether he violated the constitution by granting an amnesty to more than 6,000 prisoners serving short jail terms, as well as for other acts.

The biggest punishment he faces, if found guilty, is losing office, his presidential pension and the right to stand again in future. That is mild, given that his second and final consecutive term runs out on Thursday.

But it would be a blow to the legacy of the right-wing economist, who has proved self-conscious about his image, especially compared with the reverence enjoyed by his late predecessor, Vaclav Havel.

The treason article of the constitution is applied only to presidents, who cannot be prosecuted in any other way for their actions in office. It has never been used before in modern Czech history.

The amnesty angered most Czechs because it ended the prosecution of many people investigated for economic crimes such as embezzlement, a sore point in a country where corruption and fraud has topped political debate for years.