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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Czech PM sends pistols to rival
By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Prague

Jiri Paroubek
Pistols at dawn? Jiri Paroubek made his point bluntly
Two months before Czechs vote in a parliamentary election, the prime minister has literally thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition leader.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek sent his right-of-centre rival Mirek Topolanek a pair of duelling pistols, challenging him to a live TV debate.

The general elections will be held on 2-3 June and Mr Topolanek's Civic Democrats are ahead in opinion polls.

Mr Paroubek took over from scandal-hit Stanislav Gross last year.

Personal flair

Shortly before noon on Thursday, a horse-drawn carriage drew up outside the headquarters of the opposition Civic Democratic Party.

Choose your weapon, sir
Jiri Paroubek

Inside were a pair of duelling pistols and a pair of fencing swords, and also a letter, written in archaic Czech, from the prime minister.

"Choose your weapon, sir," it read, "and appear with me - man to man - on a series of live TV debates".

Mr Paroubek has been prime minister for just under a year, but has turned around the flagging fortunes of his Social Democrats with a blend of political pragmatism and an unflappable personal style.

But his greatest test will come in June, when his party goes head to head with Mr Topolanek's Civic Democrats, who are riding high in the polls.

There are still seven weeks to go before the elections, but now, it seems, the gloves are off.

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