Czechs leftists back business over human rights ahead of election

PRAGUE Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:44am EDT

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic should not harm its business relations with Russia and China by stressing human rights concerns, the country's prospective finance minister said on Tuesday.

For most of the past two decades, foreign policy in the NATO and EU member country had a strong human rights aspect, thanks to the first post-communist President Vaclav Havel, himself a political prisoner when Prague was part of the Soviet bloc.

Jan Mladek, finance speaker for the Social Democrat party that is set to win the largest share of the vote in the Oct 25-26 election, said the government should care for jobs first.

"One extreme is the tendency to evaluate the quality of democracy in Russia. I admire the guts of someone who can do that. Maybe we should start with ourselves, and the tendency to discuss the quality of human rights or territorial integrity of China," Mladek said at a pre-election debate.

People who do that deprive the country of "tens of thousands of jobs", he said.

"By no means we should be advocating for authoritarian regimes, but on the other hand we need to accept these are large, important countries," he said.

Havel used to host exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, and former center-right Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek raised some eyebrows in 2008 when he donned a Tibetan flag pin while announcing his trip to the Beijing Olympic Games. The Czechs have also been supporting dissidents in Belarus and in Cuba.

Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister in the last center-right cabinet that collapsed in June, had also criticized the sentencing of members of the Russian Pussy Riot punk band last year for staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin in the main Moscow church.

Exports account roughly for 80 percent of the Czech gross domestic product (GDP). Some 78 percent of the total export volume went to the European Union in 2012, while combined exports to Russia and China accounted for 5 percent.

($1 = 18.8057 Czech crowns)

(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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