Zuzana Caputova leads in Slovakia's presidential polls

EPA-EFE  JAKUB GAVLAK

EPA-EFE JAKUB GAVLAK

Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks after the first unofficial results at a party election headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 16, 2019.

The leading contenders are Zuzana Caputova, an environmental activist in favour of gay rights and who opposes a ban on abortion in the conservative Roman Catholic country, and Maros Sefcovic, who is a European Commission vice-president.

The voters have had enough of the Smer party and just a year ago mass protests broke out after a journalist was assassinated.

The pair will now contest a second-round run-off on 30 March.

Turnout was just under 50%.

"I see a strong call for change in this election following the tragic events last spring and a very strong public reaction", Čaputová said on Saturday.

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Caputova, a lawyer from Pezinok in western Slovakia, serves as Deputy Chairperson of non-parliamentary party Progressive Slovakia.

The protests prompted Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign.

Four others were charged by investigators a year ago.

Ms Caputova was backed in her campaign by outgoing President Andrej Kiska, who did not seek a second term in office.

The Slovak presidency is a largely ceremonial office, but the president has limited powers of veto over laws passed by parliament.

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