Hospitalised Czech president shown in video as his office counters critics

Czech President Milos Zeman (above, in a file photo) was shown in hospital signing a decree to convene a new parliament, in a video released by his aides. PHOTO: REUTERS

PRAGUE (REUTERS) - Aides to Czech President Milos Zeman on Thursday (Oct 21) showed a video of him signing a decree to convene a new parliament while in hospital a week ago, seeking to defend their handling of his hospitalisation against accusations of secrecy.

Zeman's absence in hospital has coincided with a post-electoral period of political transition in which he is meant to play a role, unnerving politicians who have discussed triggering constitutional mechanisms to take away his powers.

Zeman's office has said little about his health since he was taken into intensive care on Oct 10, a day after a parliamentary election, and the video was the first image of the ill president while in hospital.

While his aides and hospital officials have said they did not have permission to speak about Zeman's condition, the lack of information has created uncertainty among many Czechs.

Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil on Monday quoted a hospital report commissioned by his office as saying Zeman was unable to perform any duties while in intensive care and was unlikely to return to work soon.

At a news conference on Thursday, Zeman's chief of office Vratislav Mynar, without taking questions, defended the office's handling of the hospitalisation against media and political criticism for secrecy.

It showed a short video of lower house Speaker Radek Vondracek meeting Zeman, who signed a decree on the new parliament to be convened on Nov 8 while in a hospital bed and speaking to Vondracek and three others, none of whom wore face masks.

According to the report for the upper house Senate's head, the hospital informed Mynar about the seriousness of Zeman's condition on Oct 13.

That was a day before Vondracek went to see Zeman on Oct 14, which according to Mynar was at the president's request.

Mynar told reporters Zeman had asked him to prepare the decree even before his hospitalisation.

Following the release of the hospital report by the Senate this week, the police said on Tuesday they had started an investigation into whether any crimes have been committed but did not identify the target of their probe.

Opposition parties won a majority in the Oct 8-9 lower house election and have said they will form a government to oust Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who was backed by Zeman before the vote. Babis has pledged a smooth transition of power and this week joined calls for Mynar to step down.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.