January 26, 2016 / 3:32 PM / in 2 years

Election or Kalashnikov to get rid of prime minister, Czech president jokes

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Milos Zeman outraged government and opposition politicians alike on Tuesday by joking that only an election or Kalashnikov assault rifle could be used to get rid of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, his long-time political adversary.

Czech President Milos Zeman speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The remark was the last in a string of incendiary comments from Zeman, whose statements targeting opponents and migrants have drawn fire from the government as well as the U.N human rights chief.

Zeman, whose popularity has shot up in the past months on sharp comments against accepting Muslim immigrants, does not have much day-to-day executive power but is an important opinion maker in the central European country.

When asked at a public debate in a southeastern Czech town on Monday night what to do about a prime minister whose attitude to migrants is seen as more moderate than his, Zeman said:

“If you want to get rid of any politician, including the president, there is only one democratic way and that is a free election, which will take place in a year,” Zeman said.

“And then there is an undemocratic path that is called Kalashnikov,” he said with a smile. The audience laughed and applauded.

Zeman, 71, often diverges from the EU and NATO member country’s foreign policy line, professing anti-immigration views and echoing Russian official views on the conflict in Ukraine.

The Czech government’s stance on migration has been far away from Germany’s welcoming approach but much less controversial than Zeman’s.

The center-left prime minister rejected Zeman’s comments.

“We are with the highest probability the only country in a civilized world where the president publicly calls for killing the prime minister,” news agency CTK quoted him as saying.

Politicians from both government and opposition parties joined Sobotka in denouncing the president’s rhetoric.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; editing by Ralph Boulton

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