Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Budapest braces for more violent protests

AFP , BUDAPEST

Hungarian protesters ride on a Russian-made T-34 tank stolen from an exhibition about the 1956 Hungarian uprising in downtown Budapest on Monday. Clashes broke out after police prohibited protesters from getting closer to the parliament building where top foreign politicians celebrated the 50th anniversary of the uprising. Police were preparing for more protests yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Hungarian police yesterday braced for further violence a day after Budapest was rocked by riots on the 50th anniversary of the uprising against Soviet rule.

"We are prepared for a return to violence and can guarantee law and order," national police spokesman Tibor Jarmy said.

He said police reinforcements sent from the countryside yesterday to battle anti-government protesters would stay in the capital "for the time being."

Outside parliament, where over a dozen European heads of state attended ceremonies on Monday to commemorate the uprising, an area where far-right extremists had held demonstrations for more than a month remained cordoned off.

"We still consider this an area for police operations," Jarmy said.

On Monday, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons at thousands of mostly far-right protesters on the streets of the capital as commemorations of the uprising descended into chaos.

Authorities said 128 injuries were reported and some 100 people were arrested.

"An aggressive minority is terrorizing us. We have to defend the country," Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany told public TV late on Monday after an emergency session of the national security Cabinet.

There were fears the riots could bring a return of the chaos triggered last month by a leaked recording in which Gyurcsany said he had lied to voters about the economy to win re-election in April.

Those protests, which lasted over a month, degenerated into riots over three nights, leaving hundreds injured.

The leader of the main right-wing opposition Fidesz party, former prime minister Viktor Orban, used the Gyurcsany recording to compare the premier to Soviet oppressors, saying both had "lied" to the country, an analogy that has been dismissed by historians.

Orban told tens of thousands of his supporters on Monday that "an entire country has turned against this illegitimate government."

He had organized a separate rally after boycotting official ceremonies, thus torpedoing efforts to put on a show of national unity for the uprising anniversary.

Gyurcsany said on Monday that politicians should not confuse current political differences with the uprising.

"1956 was about the fight for freedom, while 2006 is about the order of freedom and democracy ... The 1956 revolution was replaced by the debates of a democracy," he told parliament.

In his speech Monday, Orban said he wanted to hold a series of referendums on the government's economic reforms, which some saw as his latest attempt to grab power after losing two parliamentary elections to the left.

"We cannot doubt that the referendums are a Trojan horse with only one aim, to prepare for a `democratic' takeover of power," centrist daily Magyar Hirap said in an editorial yesterday.

The reforms are unpopular because they include austerity measures aimed at reining in Hungary's public deficit, the highest in the EU, and preparing the country to adopt the euro.

Earlier this month, Orban organized more than two weeks of protests in an effort to pressure Gyurcsany to resign after the left lost Oct. 1 local government polls.

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