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Hungary foes clash over protests

Hungary's PM said the protesters were “terrorising” Budapest. By the end of the day, the number of protesters had fallen from several thousand to a few hundred.

PM Ferenc Gyurcsány has refused calls to resign, describing anti-government protesters as an „aggressive minority”. But the leader of the main opposition Fidesz party said the whole country was against his „illegitimate government”. Some 100 people were hurt as protesters and riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets clashed in Budapest. Opposition to PM Ferenc Gyurcsány turned violent last month after he admitted lying to win re-election. Clashes continued late into the night on Monday and the mood in the capital remained tense. By the end of the day, the number of protesters had fallen from several thousand to a few hundred, mostly concentrated on the Elizabeth Bridge over the River Danube. Many of the protesters were from hard-right groups and some carried the red-and-white striped flag of the Hungarian government that supported the Nazis during World War II. A group of demonstrators briefly commandeered a tank taken from an exhibition marking the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising.

Gyurcsány said the protesters were an „aggressive minority... terrorizing us”. „We have to defend the country,” he said. The Fidesz party said the police had used excessive force to break up the protests. The party's leader, Viktor Orbán, a former prime minister, told a gathering of his supporters that „an entire country has turned against this illegitimate government”. Earlier in the day, Hungarian officials and foreign dignitaries gathered at the parliament building to lay flowers. Some veterans of the 1956 uprising refused to shake hands with Gyurcsány at the commemoration and the main opposition Fidesz party said it was boycotting events where he would speak. The Fidesz party has long refused to mark the 1956 uprising with Gyurcsány’s Socialists, whom it accuses of inheriting the mantle of the pro-Soviet Communists.

Gyurcsány caused political uproar recently when he admitted he had lied to the public about the economy. But he has denied any comparison between Monday's protests and their 1956 counterparts. „The majority of Hungarians believe that parliamentary democracy is the most suited to express people's will and to create law and give a program to a free Hungary,” he said. The Hungarian uprising started in Budapest on 23 October 1956, with a spontaneous demonstration by a crowd of about 23,000, the reading of a pro-democracy manifesto and the singing of banned national songs. A giant statue of Stalin was pulled down, leaving only the dictator's boots on the pedestal. Soviet tanks were forced to withdraw, but returned with devastating force a week later. The BBC's Allan Little says the uprising was the moment the world accepted the post-war partition of Europe and the apparent permanence of what Winston Churchill had called „the Iron Curtain”. (BBC News)