Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

When political insults get personal

The personal attack by British MEP Nigel Farage on the new EU President Herman van Rompuy at the European parliament on Wednesday was met with shock and disdain. The tirade however was the latest in a string of similar incidents in political chambers around the world. Here is a selection.


Hugo Chavez at the UN in 2006
Hugo Chavez used his speech to lash at US influence

In a dramatic speech to the United Nations in September 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez famously described George W Bush as the "Devil".

"The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house.

"And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today.

"Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world."


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi triggered uproar in the European Parliament when he suggested that Martin Schulz, a heckling German MEP who had criticised him, would be perfectly cast as a Nazi concentration camp guard in a forthcoming film.

I know that in Italy, there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I shall put you forward for the part of guard
Silvio Berlusconi

"I know that in Italy, there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I shall put you forward for the part of guard."

Mr Berlusconi made the remarks as he was setting out his programme for Italy's presidency of the EU in July 2003, and rounded on Mr Schulz after the German Social Democrat MEP had criticised his business and political conduct.

Mr Schulz had referred to an alleged conflict of interest between the political role of Italy's richest man and his extensive media empire, and deplored outspoken comments on immigration by Italian Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi.


At an Arab League summit in March 2003, Libyan leader Col Muammar al-Gaddafi criticised Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah as the US prepared to invade Iraq, denouncing him as an American ally and sympathiser before storming out.

"'[Saudi] King Fahd told me that his country was threatened, and that he would co-operate with the Devil to protect it," Col Gaddafi said.

"'Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and not an agent of colonialism like you and others," responded Crown Prince Abdullah, King Fahd's brother, who was standing in for his brother because of illness.

"You, who brought you to power? Don't talk about matters that you fail to prove. Your lies precede you, while the grave is ahead of you," he added.

The exchange marked the start of a six-year-long feud between the two leaders.


Rowdy scenes in the Australian parliament led to the ejection of six MPs, including Employment Services Minister Tony Abbott after he called the opposition leader at the time a "sanctimonious windbag".

The trouble broke out during government Question Time when politicians from the ruling Conservative party and the Labor opposition traded insults.

The slanging match came just two days after members of parliament had called for higher standards and an end to personal attacks, while mourning a colleague who had committed suicide.


On 14 June 1978, the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey likened being attacked by his mild-mannered opposite counterpart Sir Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons to being "savaged by a dead sheep".

I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep
Denis Healey

"I start with the measures which the Government announced last Thursday, and which are the immediate occasion of today's debate, and to which the right hon gentleman finally came round - a trifle nervously, I thought - after ploughing through that tedious and tendentious farrago of moth-eaten cuttings presented to him by the Conservative Research Department. I must say that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep."


On Wednesday 12 October 1960, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, in what would later become known as the shoe-banging incident, interrupted the speech of the head of the Philippine delegation during a debate at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960 over a Russian resolution decrying colonialism.

Infuriated by Senator Lorenzo Sumulong's statement which accused the Soviets of double standards by decrying colonialism while dominating Eastern Europe, Mr Khrushchev demanded the right to reply immediately, and accused Mr Sumulong of being "a jerk, a stooge, and a lackey of imperialism".

Mr Sumulong resumed his speech, and accused the Soviets of hypocrisy. Mr Khrushchev yanked off his shoe and began banging it on his desk.

His granddaughter later wrote that "the shoe incident became a potent symbol of the Cold War, probably the only war in which fear and humour peacefully coexisted".

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