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Budapest police charge protesters as pressure on Premier mounts

Police in Budapest charged at protesters to end a day of riots on the 50th anniversary of Hungary's anti-communist uprising. The violence extended a month of pressure on Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány to resign.

Officers had cleared the square in front of Parliament, removing protesters who had camped there for a month demanding Gyurcsány’s resignation. There were clashes before police sealed the area ahead of yesterday's visit by dignitaries. Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Poland's Lech Kaczynski were among visitors from about 60 countries. Other guests included European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Budapest's landmark chain bridge was decked out in red, white and green Hungarian flags. The Buda bank of the Danube was a line of flags, some with a hole in the middle as a tribute to the 1956 rebels who cut out the communist symbol from the national emblem. The 1956 rebellion followed a period of political oppression. Like in other Soviet satellite states, secret police incarcerated people judged to be against the regime, while economically the country headed toward the collective farms and industrial expansion seen under Stalin in Russia. The uprising began October 23 in Budapest with a student march to demand democracy. When protests spread across the country, the government asked for Soviet help to quell the revolt. The Kremlin sent tanks and 60,000 soldiers. About 3,000 people died in three weeks of fighting.

Groups clashed with police who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Sirens, helicopters and canister explosions were heard across the capital as officers, some on horseback, dispersed several bands of protesters. The final move through a burning barricade cleared the crowd by 1:45 a.m. local time. Street violence, the worst since the 1956 revolt, broke out last month after a revelation that Gyurcsány lied about the economy to win re-election. While those riots stopped after three days, political pressure remained with the opposition boycotting Gyurcsány’s every appearance. Now his future is questioned again. „The unpredictability has escalated and I don't know if it can escalate any further,” said Orsolya Szomszéd, a political scientist at Vision Consulting in Budapest, in a phone interview. A hundred people were taken to the hospital, news Web site Index reported. A deputy for the largest opposition party, Fidesz, was injured when a rubber bullet hit him in the head. Police turned out in their hundreds to face the last grouping on Elizabeth Bridge in central Budapest, one of seven spanning the Danube, where about 5,000 protesters built a barricade using materials from a nearby construction site. They burned cars and blocked off several side streets. Police moved at 1:30 a.m. today, first firing a water cannon and a volley of tear gas grenades into Sándor Petőfi street. On the Buda side of the bridge they used a snow plough to clear a road block.

A few hundred demonstrators chanting „Gyurcsány get away!” remained by the time police charged from both ends of the bridge. Rioters thumped the barricade, reverberating across downtown in the night while police gathered. Earlier, a group of rioters dismantled an art installation that said „Budapest, City of Freedom” and hurled debris at police. Many of them invoked the revolution, chanting „56, 56!” Graffiti on a building behind Kossuth square, where the Parliament is located, read „Everyday is 1956.” „The leaders of this country are the descendents of the servants of the dictatorship,” said János Kovács who said his father was killed during the revolution. Kovács, in the crowd with his son, spoke as clouds of teargas wafted over the street. One group drove a tank that was part of an exhibition of 1956 memorabilia at the police barricade. József Holló, head of the military history institute, said the vehicle had no battery and protesters must have installed one to get it started.
Prime Minister Gyurcsány called an emergency meeting of his national security council to get reports from police on the scale of the violence and how to react, according to Magyar Televizió. „This was an act of aggression by a minority against the majority,” Gyurcsány told state newswire MTI after the meeting. „The Hungarian police acted correctly in protecting the rights of the majority,” he was quoted as saying. „Protesters attacked our colleagues, and the police responded,” police spokesman Tibor Jármy said in a telephone interview yesterday, declining further comment. He has defied calls for his resignation and on October 21 demanded his Socialist Party unite in support of austerity measures aimed at cutting the European Union's widest budget deficit. The government is cutting spending on such things as university tuition and drug subsidies. Gyurcsány said yesterday in his speech to leaders from across Europe who had convened in the city to commemorate the uprising 50 years ago that 1956 was about freedom and 2006 is about „the order of freedom and democracy.” Opposition leader Viktor Orbán, speaking at a party rally, called for national votes on health, pension and education policies and on land ownership. He urged demonstrators to „stick to democratic means” and said the vote would restore order. (Bloomberg)