Police in Budapest expelled several hundred protesters early yesterday from a square outside parliament as Hungary commemorated the 50th anniversary of its anti-Soviet uprising.
Protests on Kossuth Square started on Sept. 17, when a recording was leaked revealing Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitting that the government had lied about the economy before its re-election in April. The protesters had vowed to stay until Gyurcsany was dismissed, but police pushed them off the square after they refused to submit to checks.
But authorities did not dismantle the dozens of tents set up by the protesters, and were expected to allow the demonstrators to return after yesterday's official events.
As the commemoration events began, reporters from state news wire MTI said police had beaten some of the protesters -- including women and elderly people -- with rubber batons, leaving several with head injuries.
President Laszlo Solyom on Sunday issued a plea for national unity, trying to keep the bitter political divisions from spilling over into the celebrations.
"Oct. 23 could be a real national holiday if we wanted it to be and if we took the steps leading back to the unity and uniqueness of 1956," Solyom said at a gala event at the Hungarian State Opera which launched the official ceremonies.
Commemorations began yesterday with a ceremonial raising of the national flag, followed by Hungarian and foreign dignitaries laying flowers at the foot of a 1956 monument on Kossuth Square.
Officials later attended a special session in the legislature's Upper House Chamber, where Gyurcsany and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke.
"Our debates on 1956 are not about the past, but the present. About who we are, what kind of world we would like," Gyurcsany said. "1956 is just a reminder, a mirror in which we see our present selves."
He described Imre Nagy, the communist-turned-democrat who was briefly returned to power in 1956, as "the political predecessor of every prime minister" of post-communist Hungary.
Barroso said the 1956 revolution "lit a torch of freedom" which later helped topple dictatorships across Europe.
"The courage of the -- often anonymous -- heroes of 1956 led to the foundation of new democracies and the reunification of Europe," Barroso said.
Delegations from at least 56 countries were in Budapest for the ceremonies, including NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Spain's King Juan Carlos.