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EU calls on Czech President Zeman to cooperate

Czech President Milos Zeman reacts as he defeated pro-EU academic Jiri Drahos in the presidential election in Prague, Czech Republic, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior European Union officials on Monday urged the eurosceptic but pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman to pursue cooperation within the bloc following his re-election.

Zeman won a second term in a presidential election in the Czech Republic last weekend after campaigning on a tough stance against immigration and touting his courtship of Russia and China.

In a message of congratulations, European Council President Donald Tusk wrote: “I trust that your country will continue to play an active and constructive role within the European Union.”

The former Polish prime minister, who has tried to calm mounting frictions between the wealthier governments in the west and the formerly-communist EU states in the east, highlighted his own efforts to get the bloc to “better respond to European citizens’ concerns” -- a nod to popular worries over issues such as immigration.

The head of the EU’s executive European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, echoed Tusk’s appeal for cooperation.

“In an increasingly polarized and complex world, we need to build bridges within and between countries,” he wrote.

Later on Monday, Juncker was due to host Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who has support from Zeman as he struggles to form a government following a parliamentary election in October.

While Babis is expected to reassure Juncker that Prague remains dedicated to the EU, he will also make clear he would not help other countries in the bloc by agreeing to host any refugees, sources said.

The migration dispute, which has split the eastern members of the bloc from their western and southern peers, has caused bad blood in the EU, weakening member states’ trust in each other.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Angus MacSwan