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Egg attacks signal a dark turn of events

An assault on a Czech politician has sparked a level of violent protest not seen since 1989.

Chairman of the Social Democrats Jiri Paroubek covers his face as he is pelted with eggs by opponents during his party's European Parliament election campaign in Prague May 27, 2009. (David W. Cerny/Reuters)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — It began as a form of political pranksterism, with a lone protester pelting eggs at the leader of the Social Democratic Party.

But what started out as a limited outburst of hostility — against Jiri Paroubek, during a campaign stop two weeks ago for the European parliamentary elections — has this week erupted into the most violent political demonstrations since the revolution that ended communism in 1989.

The initial attack on Paroubek was followed on subsequent campaign stops by more egg-throwing attacks, though nothing like what transpired this week. On Wednesday, at a rally in the capital, an entire stage-full of Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leaders was pelted with dozens of eggs.

Even President Vaclav Klaus, known for his own pugnacious style of governing, called the assault "a threat to democracy,” while politicians and political observers said the incident recalled a violent time in the country’s past.

The anger stems from the fall of the rightist government in a vote of no confidence two months ago, coinciding with the country's turn hosting the rotating presidency of the European Union.

But even the instigators of the initial attacks — CSSD opponents who used a Facebook page titled "Eggs for Paroubek," which in two short weeks attracted more than 50,000 supporters — acknowledged that protesters had gone too far. They shut down the page.

According to Jan Hartl, director of one of the country’s top polling agencies, the attacks have “scared a lot of people, who are asking about the level of political culture in this country, and whether this will become a pattern.”