Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Protesters vow not to quit in Hungary

ESCALATING TENSIONS In the wake of the biggest rally yet to oust the Hungarian prime minister, police warned that radicals and hooligans were planning violence


Protesters vowed yesterday to maintain their effort to topple Hungary's prime minister after their biggest rally yet, but analysts said Ferenc Gyurcsany was likely to survive despite admitting lying to win re-election.

Some 40,000 people poured into Budapest's parliament square on Saturday after a week of demonstrations calling for the millionaire Socialist prime minister to step down.

"Our protests will not cease until the Cabinet resigns," said Tomas Molnar, a rally organizer. "We want to bring down the current post-communist government."

Despite the size of the rally and fears far-right extremists would turn up, the kind of violence that marred demonstrations earlier in the week did not materialize as well-armed police watched from the sidelines.

"Saturday's big crowd will surely give strength to people. It could take weeks but he will resign," said Agnes, a financial worker at the rally.

Analysts said however Gyur-csany was likely to survive his biggest crisis in two years of leading the country and that the government would stick to budget reforms which have won preliminary backing from the European Commission.

The turmoil coincides with a political shake-up in Poland and a failure by Czech leaders to form a new government more than three months after an election, raising investors' worries about political instability across central Europe.

The Hungarian demonstrations have widened the bitter division between the governing left and the rightist opposition, each accusing the other of fomenting violence to win ground ahead of local elections on Oct. 1.

The protests were ignited by a tape leaked to the media in which Gyurcsany admitted his Socialist party had lied "in the morning and in the evening" to win re-election in April.

Gyurcsany has said he will stay in power and pledges to implement painful tax rises and spending cuts which have caused his government's popularity to plummet to 25 percent in recent polls from 40 percent at April's election.

He has won his party's backing for the cuts to rein in a deficit which has surged to 10.1 percent of GDP -- the largest of any EU member -- after four years of overspending.

Meanwhile, Hungarian police warned on Saturday night that far-right radicals and football hooligans were stirring up violence during the demonstrations.

They issued the warnings as riot police with tear gas and water cannon called up reinforcements to their positions in central Budapest and thousands of people waving national flags descended on the parliament buildings.

As darkness fell on Saturday night, Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said masses of people were still pouring into the capital from the countryside.

"The situation is likely to be made worse by the [Ferencvaros] soccer match ... it can be expected that the fans will head towards parliament square after," he said.

Council workers were traveling through the city removing trash cans, debris from building sites and anything else that rioters could use against police.

The conservative Fidesz opposition party withdrew its support for yesterday's rally after warnings of serious violence, but far-right nationalist groups encouraged people from across Hungary to come to Budapest.

The Movement for a Better Hungary also encouraged its supporters, most of whom are younger than its rivals' followers but share their far-right values.

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