PRAGUE – Egg-throwing protesters have made a mess of the Czech Republic's European election campaign.
It all started two weeks ago when Lukas Botka, a 26-year-old activist, shelled Jiri Paroubek, chairman of the left-wing Social Democrats, at a rally in the town of Kolin.
More than 43,000 people then joined a Facebook campaign titled "Eggs for Paroubek in every town!"
Paroubek urged police to guard his party's events in anticipation of further problems. But officers couldn't stop dozens of eggs from hitting Paroubek and other politicians as they attempted to give speeches in Prague on Wednesday.
Sixteen people were briefly detained and no more eggings have been reported. Still, the egg-throwers succeeded in shifting the country's pre-election focus away from issues such as the economic crisis.
"The campaign for the European parliament is now almost all about eggs," the country's biggest newspaper, Mlada Fronta Dnes, recently said on its front page.
Paroubek is unpopular among young people who say he is arrogant and has made too many empty promises to fix the country's financial crisis. Many also remember that Paroubek, then prime minister, backed police when some 1,000 riot officers used water cannons and tear gas to disperse about 5,000 people attending the annual CzechTek electronic dance music festival in 2005.
Paroubek accused his conservative rivals, the Civic Democratic Party, of being behind the egging. But the party disputed any involvement and called on the activists to stop.
Polls give the Civic Democrats a slight lead over the Social Democrats ahead of the June 5-6 elections.
Several years ago, former President Vaclav Havel was hit by an egg in Slovakia's capital of Bratislava. In 2000, two activists threw eggs at Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, in the second-largest Czech city of Brno. Both missed their target.