President Klaus in shooting scare

It was to have been a routine bridge opening ceremony in the town of Chrastava, north of Prague with President Vaclav Klaus guest of honour at the event. As it turned out, an unexpected act of hooliganism gave the president a bad scare and revealed just how useless his bodyguards were in a crisis.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTKVáclav Klaus, photo: CTK On a walkabout shortly after the ceremony the president was greeting the locals, smiling and shaking hands when the incident occurred: a young man in camouflage gear forced his way through the crowd and took several shots from close range at the head of state with an airsoft plastic gun. The president who was hit on the arm by seven pellets looked stunned and his astonished bodyguards let the attacker walk away and even give a brief statement to a commercial television station before being detained by the police. While the president was unharmed –only getting a routine check up and treatment for minor bruises at a Prague hospital –the incident has sparked heated debate on security issues. As television stations reran footage of the incident throughout the weekend commenting on the lamentable state of the president’s security team, the president’s chief bodyguard Jiří Sklenka announced his resignation.

Jiří Sklenka, photo: CTKJiří Sklenka, photo: CTK “After watching the incident on video I feel I must take responsibility for the actions of my subordinates and I must face this like a man.”

The bodyguards who failed to protect the president face sanctions and the police presidium has promised immediate action to remedy the situation. Deputy police chief Tomáš Kužel said on Sunday that security around the head of state would be tightened without delay.

“The conclusions we have come to are that while there was a sufficient number of bodyguards present their response was utterly inadequate. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.”

The police are now debating the idea of giving all top officials better protection and suggest a change of the law which would make it compulsory for people in high office to have bodyguards – an idea that has met with open ridicule from Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek.

The assailant who shot at Václav Klaus, photo: CTKThe assailant who shot at Václav Klaus, photo: CTK “Why should I be forced to suffer the constant presence of bodyguards who will do nothing to protect me in a crisis?”

The assailant responsible for the security gaffe, a supporter of the Communist Party, says that he wanted to attract attention to the concerns of the ordinary people who were being impoverished by the present government. Rotten eggs or tomatoes would not have made an adequate statement, he noted. After being questioned by police and charged with disorderly conduct he was back at work on Monday awaiting trial that could result in a two-year prison term. Asked whether he regretted his action he gave the media a terse ”no”.

While the prime minister and other government officials have condemned the mock attack, neither the head of government nor the speaker of the lower house Miroslava Němcová are prepared to accept the presence of bodyguards on a regular basis. Opposition leader Bohuslav Sobotka says there’s a much simpler solution to the problem.

The airsoft plastic gun that was used in the attack, photo: CTKThe airsoft plastic gun that was used in the attack, photo: CTK “The solution is not in deploying more bodyguards, armored vehicles or popemobiles. The solution is to diffuse growing social tension."

Meanwhile, President Klaus, who strongly rebuked his bodyguards seconds after the shooting incident on Friday, has changed his tone saying that the incident was a political attack that reflected the sorry state of the society and slamming those who he said incited such behavior.