Prague's lord mayor climbs Mount Everest and comes down to earth with a bump

The lord mayor of Prague Pavel Bem, who last week became the tenth Czech to conquer Mount Everest - and the first Czech politician to do so, arrived back in Prague on Monday triumphant, tanned and bearded. But not everyone was prepared to clap him on the back. Alongside the admiration of fans, Mr. Bem faced criticism for having "walked away from his job" for eight long weeks.

Pavel Bem, photo: CTKPavel Bem, photo: CTK On the morning of May 18th at 6.47am local time the mayor of Prague fulfilled his childhood dream - he conquered Mount Everest - at 8,848 meters - the world's tallest peak. It was, he said, an unforgettable experience.

"It was really hard work getting to the top but I will never forget the 65 minutes I spent at the peak. It is an experience I wanted everyone to share - the feeling of reaching the very top and having the world lie at your feet."

Pavel Bem, photo: CTKPavel Bem, photo: CTK But no sooner had he landed at Prague's Ruzyne Airport the mayor came down to earth with a bump - in addition to congratulations from family and friends, he had to parry jibes from political rivals. Opposition leader Jiri Paroubek noted that Mr. Bem might be interested to hear that he had not been missed:

"The fact that the lord mayor was able to take two months off the job and not be missed speaks for itself. He clearly is not needed to do more than cur ribbons at ceremonial openings and look good."

Pavel Bem, photo: CTKPavel Bem, photo: CTK "I have never taken jibes from opposition politicians very seriously, Mr. Bem countered. However, he must have smarted from the fact that even some of his close colleagues from the Civic Democratic Party and President Klaus joined in the criticism. The president said he could not really condone anyone in an important post walking away from it for two months. He did not omit to add that, ever since he had entered politics himself, he had not taken more than a week's leave at a time. Other critics noted that every politician in high office climbed his or her Mount Everest in their own district serving voters and that this was more useful than going mountaineering. Pavel Bem refused to be thrown, promising to make up for time lost.

Pavel Bem, photo: CTKPavel Bem, photo: CTK "Yes, I admit I was not in my post for two months. Everything went splendidly in my absence and I would like to thank my reliable staff for making this trip possible. I think any good firm should work well in its manager's absence. But now that I am back I plan to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, as is my habit."

Having conquered the world's highest peak the lord mayor of Prague has come home to a new challenge - convincing the public and some of his own colleagues that his exceptional feat was not a sign of political irresponsibility. Given his cool reception back home, that might prove a tougher challenge than climbing the world's highest peak.