Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Budapest riots ebb as security tightens

CAUGHT The prime minister's refusal to step down after leaked comments proved he lied about the state of the Hungarian economy has driven three nights of violence


A rioter is detained by police officers during the third night of clashes in Budapest early on Thursday.


Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators demanding the prime minister's resignation yesterday, but the chaos gripping the Hungarian capital appeared to be ebbing after two straight nights of violence.

Thousands of police were out in force, deployed in new, stronger riot gear and an official said the government could consider a curfew in the Hungarian capital as demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany for the fourth day.

The main protest grew to 15,000 by late evening. But he stood his ground, insisting his government intended to press ahead with economic reforms.

The curfew idea was raised by Justice Minister Jozsef Petretei, who also told state radio that the government "will take whatever measures are required" to stop rioting, without elaborating.

He was separately quoted by HirTV as saying "the use of weapons would have been justified" by police to stop some of the more violent radicals over the past two days.

The station later cited an unnamed government spokesmen as saying Petretei's comments did not mean active consideration of a curfew, with Gyurcsany himself opposed to such a move.

Still, the tough comments reflected tensions as demonstrators gathered again on Kossuth Square in front of the neo-Gothic parliament building under the watchful gaze of about 600 riot police officers.

While the crowd at parliament has reached 10,000 or more over the past three days, the trouble has come from groups breaking away to seek mischief.

A wooden coffin placed on a stand in the square bore the slogan: "We are burying the Gyurcsany government. For you, there is no resurrection."

Police detained a youth after he tried to set the coffin alight. Later, they fired tear gas at hundreds of youthful demonstrators confronting them at a main downtown intersection, and chased others down side streets. Several youths were injured, one in the neck by a tear gas canister, but no other incidents were reported by early morning.

Hungarian media reported smaller demonstrations from half a dozen other cities and towns.

Still, with the crowd at Kossuth Square down to only a few hundred by early yesterday, it appeared to be the most peaceful night since the first violence erupted on Tuesday before daybreak.

Gyurcsany's refusal to step down after leaked comments admitting his government had lied about the dismal state of Hungary's economy had sparked a paroxysm of violence unrivaled since the anti-Soviet revolution 50 years ago.

For two days running police battled thousands of radicals trying to storm strategic or symbolic government buildings.

The state MTI news agency reported that baseball bats had been sold out over the past few days at all major sports stores in the Hungarian capital. Many of the youthful radicals had swung bats in their confrontation with police.

MTI provided no figures. But baseball is not a major sport in Hungary and store stocks were likely small.

Police showed off new battle gear, including transparent shields that protected more of the body. Officials said some of those on riot duty would additionally be wearing flak jackets.

In the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday, police fired water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators trying to prevent them from storming Gyurcsany's Socialist party headquarters.

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