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Prescott not the first to pack a punch

Jean Chretien
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien once throttled a protester as the cameras rolled  

By CNN's Douglas Herbert

LONDON, England (CNN) - John Prescott is not the only political heavyweight to lose his cool on the campaign trail.

Nor is Britain's deputy prime minister the first to engage in a fight with a voter as the television cameras rolled.

Millions of Canadians recall Prime Minister Jean Chretien's public throttling of an anti-poverty protester during a walkabout in Hull, Quebec in 1996. Europe
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Prescott punch costs Labour dear

The Canadian press dubbed the prime ministerial choke-hold on protester Bill Clennett the "Shawinigan handshake," a reference to Chretien's hometown.

It gave Chretien a popularity boost and Clennett a broken tooth.

Canada's press cast the encounter as a sort of reverse David-and-Goliath tale, with Clennett getting comeuppance from "the little guy from Shawinigan", as Chretien often refers to himself.

Alan Freeman, a London-based correspondent for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, sees parallels in Prescott's and Chretien's behaviour. Both men, he said, cultivate a rough-and-tumble image that a certain segment of voters identify with.

"Prescott in some ways is a bit like Jean Chretien," Freeman said. "His language is sometimes hard to understand and he's got this sort of 'tough guy' image."

The rest of Canadian politics, Freeman added, tends to be far less combustible. "You don't get in Canada wrestling matches on the floor of the House of Commons."

While fist fights have never been a staple of Britain's democratic debate, members have been known to occasionally stray from the unwritten rules of Westminster etiquette.

Parliamentary ear-biting

In 1972, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament Bernadette Devlin MacAliskey strode across the chamber and slapped Home Secretary Reggie Maudling in the face after Maudling said British soldiers had fired in self-defence during "Bloody Sunday", in which 14 protesters died.

In Jordan in May, a parliamentary deputy bit off part of a colleague's ear after the two had exchanged punches.

Russia has been host to even more shocking displays of political pugilism, with the country's lower chamber of parliament, the Duma, having erupted in the past in hand-to-hand combat.

In 1995, a brawl broke out on the Duma floor during a debate over Bosnia after a party leader known as a nationalist firebrand ripped a cross from the neck of Gleb Yakunin, a dissident priest.

Far-right leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky added to the drama by then assaulting a female deputy, Yevgeniya Tishkovskaya, who had been trying to protect Yakunin.

But such outbursts are just the external face of a Russian political culture that is typically brutal and scheming, according to Viktor Kremenyuk, the deputy director of the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies in Moscow.

"It happens, but not in such a primitive way We call it the 'state racket,'" he said, referring to a process by which the government's will is enforced through heavy-handed administrative methods.

Russia's current president, Vladimir Putin, prides himself on his martial arts skills -- but, so far, he has been the recipient of more body slams than he has delivered.

Last September, Putin was neatly flipped over the shoulder of a 10-year-old, Natsumi, whom he encountered on a three-day trip to Tokyo.

• Labour Party
• Conservative Party
• Liberal Democrats
• Canadian Prime Minister's Office

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