Gloves off as PM challenges opposition leader to duel

We often speak about the cut and thrust of politics, of politicians battling it out and crossing swords, but on Thursday Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek literally threw down the gauntlet to his Civic Democrat rival Mirek Topolanek. Mr Paroubek chose a rather flamboyant gesture to challenge his rival to a series of TV debates.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Shortly before noon on Thursday a horse drawn carriage drew up outside the headquarters of the Civic Democratic Party. Out stepped two men dressed in 18th century military costumes, armed with the Social Democrats' manifesto, a pair of duelling pistols, a pair of fencing swords, a pair of wooden swords and a letter from Jiri Paroubek to Mirek Topolanek.

One of them read out the letter, written in archaic Czech, to a Civic Democrat official. It said either Mr Topolanek appear on TV with Mr Paroubek, armed just with their manifestos, or the two men meet in a duel, armed with a weapon of Mr Topolanek's choice. And with that, the man threw down the gauntlet.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTKPrime Minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK The official sent to receive them was clearly rather taken back by the publicity stunt - he refused to pick up the gauntlet for one thing - but did say he would deliver the message to Mr Topolanek. The party later recovered themselves, and Mirek Topolanek released a statement, the gist of which was - come and have a go if you think you're hard enough, and kindly send someone to clean up the horse manure outside our door.

Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTKCivic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK The challenge came seven weeks before the elections. The Civic Democrats are still in the lead. Jiri Paroubek recently lost a TV debate, partly because one of his campaign managers gave supporters the wrong mobile phone number to send in their votes by SMS text message. So the prime minister is keen to prove he can beat his rivals on TV, and Mirek Topolanek is his biggest rival.

Debates between the two men are indeed planned: May 21 and May 31 on TV Prima, May 28 on Czech TV, and June 1 on TV Nova - one day before polling stations open for business. With the temperature rising as the elections draw closer, the debates should make highly entertaining viewing.