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Hungarian premier appoints new police chief after mass sackings

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány on Tuesday nominated a senior customs official to take over a national police force reeling after a series of scandals.

Gyurcsány announced that József Bencze, an expert in combating the black economy, was his choice to lead the police force out of its current crisis. National Police Chief László Bene and Budapest Police Chief Péter Gergényi were both effectively shown the door when Gyurcsány called for them to resign. Gyurcsány acted after an alleged rape by on-duty officers, an officer stealing cash from a crime scene and allegations of motorway police taking kickbacks hit the headlines.

Minister for Justice and Law Enforcement József Petrétei also quit over the scandal, and Gyurcsány last Thursday nominated Albert Takács, former deputy ombudsman for human rights, as his successor. Main opposition party Fidesz, which had called for the heads of Bene, Gergényi and Petrétei, said that it did not approve of Takács's appointment, but was yet to comment on Bencze's suitability. Five police officers are in preliminary custody after the event that triggered the round of resignations - the alleged rape of a 21-year-old woman.

The woman claims that five officers stopped her as she drove home in early May and then forced her down a side street, where one of them raped her and another forced her to perform oral sex on him. The victim picked the five arrested officers out of a line-up. József Dobozi, the head of the police unit the accused officers belong to, has also resigned. Prior to the rape arrests, a police officer was found guilty of stealing money from a bank following a hostage situation and 13 motorway police were arrested under suspicion of accepting bribes.

More police officers were arrested last week under suspicion of appropriating Ft 840,000 ($4,524) and thousands of cigarettes from a smuggler. Opposition parties blame Gyurcsány for the crisis, saying his failure to censure „brutal” police after last year's anti-government protests means police officers feel they can do whatever they want. (