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Hungarian Justice Minister, police chiefs go after scandals

Hungarian PM said Sunday that the justice minister had resigned and the national and Budapest police chiefs were dismissed in an effort to restore public confidence in the force after several criminal investigations involving officers.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány said he had sought the changes after five officers were suspended for allegedly raping a woman on May 4 while on duty in downtown Budapest. The officers have not yet been charged. Justice Minister József Petrétei, National Police Chief László Bene and Budapest Police Chief Péter Gergényi will leave their posts as of May 31, Gyurcsány told Parliament, adding that he would soon announce candidates to replace them. "It is our joint task that peace and confidence define Hungary," Gyurcsány said, but added that it seemed the police did not have "sufficient strength nor energy to protect themselves and their (institution's) internal order."

The main opposition party, Fidesz, had demanded that the justice minister and police chiefs leave office after the rape allegations surfaced — the latest in a string of allegations against members of the force. Last week, 13 police officers and three others were detained on suspicion of corruption. Prosecutors said the officers would tell motorists stranded on highways to call only certain towing services, the owners of which paid the police for the referrals. Earlier this month, a Budapest police officer was dismissed from the force after being convicted of stealing more than Ft 400,000 ($2,100, €1,600) while supervising a cash count at a bank where there had been an attempted robbery.

A court ordered the officer to pay back the money and gave him a suspended jail sentence. Gyurcsány suggested Sunday that the police had become a target of criticism after September 2006, when violent protests broke out nationwide after the premier was heard on a leaked recording saying the government had lied about the economy. Petrétei's resignation still must be accepted by Hungary's president. If approved, Petrétei would be the second minister to leave the Socialist-led coalition government since it was formed in June 2006. Former Health Minister Lajos Molnár resigned in April without giving reason, though many suspected he had disagreed with other government officials about implementing health reforms. (