PRAGUE—The Czech Republic's controversy-courting new president is under fire for refusing to grant a university professorship to one of his critics and hinting that it is because the man is a gay rights activist.

In what is normally a formality, Czech presidents appoint the country's professors after they are nominated for the top title by their universities, but left-leaning President Milos Zeman has stood firm by his decision not to let a prominent literary historian get the promotion.

Though he has said that Martin C. Putna's sexual orientation itself is not an issue, Zeman has largely refused to fully explain his stance, insisting he doesn't want to "humiliate" the candidate "by naming the reasons publicly." But over the weekend, Zeman told Czech public TV that he "does not recognize people aspiring to teach at universities" who attend gay festivals.

A chain smoker with a well-document soft spot for alcohol, Zeman made international headlines when he was prime minister with outspoken comments, including comparing late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler. In his short time as the Czech Republic's ceremonial leader, the 68-year-old Zeman has already sparked an Internet sensation, appearing to show up drunk at a rare public display of the country's crown jewels earlier this month.

Putna, a lecturer at Prague's prestigious Charles University, openly supported Zeman's rival in presidential elections in January and ridiculed Zeman in the campaign.


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Zeman's remarks have been condemned by politicians across the political spectrum. A pro-Putna rally is planned for Thursday in front of Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech presidency.

Charles University rector Vaclav Hampl was to meet with Zeman on Wednesday. Unless a "really serious moral wrongdoing" is behind Zeman's refusal to appoint Putna, Hampl said, his action would constitute "nothing other than an absolutely unacceptable political interference."

The government has already approved a slate of 65 candidates to be appointed at a ceremony on June 11, the Education Ministry said. Zeman's predecessor, conservative Vaclav Klaus named more than 1,500 professors and rejected not a single one.