Rioters clash with police on third night
Thursday, September 21, 2006, 07:58
Hungarian rioters clashed with police on the third consecutive night of violence in downtown Budapest, while demonstrations demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány continued. Riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of about 1,000 shouting protesters on a main avenue in the city center. Police earlier dispersed a smaller crowd that had hurled beer bottles at them, near a railway station. Violence the previous two nights left about 250 people injured and more than 100 arrested. „There are several groups of protesters of varied numbers scattered around downtown,” police spokesman Péter Schőn said in a phone interview yesterday. Away from the clash, about 15,000 demonstrators gathered peacefully near the parliament building. A leaked tape in which Gyurcsány criticized the Socialist-led government and the political elite for having misled the public for so many years sparked the riots, the worst since the end of communist rule. They did not talk about the need to cut spending before April general elections. He rejected calls to quit and pledged to continue his economic program and trim the deficit. Gyurcsány three months ago announced measures, including higher taxes and increased prices for medicines, natural gas and electricity, aimed at reducing the budget deficit. The measures were part of the reason people took to the streets, according to analysts including Gergely Hudecz of DZ Bank in Budapest. People are worried about their livelihoods and are angered by the contrast with Gyurcsány, one of the country's richest men, he said. Gyurcsány rejected the comparison, calling the events criminal acts, not a revolution.
The most violent rioters were known to the police, Magyar Hírlap reported, citing unidentified officials. The core was identified as supporters of Budapest soccer teams Ferencváros and Újpest, joined by members of right-wing groups Jobbik and the 64 Counties Movement, according to the newspaper. The expletive-laden tape recording that sparked the protests was leaked to several media outlets on September 17. Gyurcsány later published the full text in his Internet diary. He was calling for the start of a cleansing process in Hungarian politics, he said. Gyurcsány and Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky urged police to crack down harder on protesters who have led two nights of rioting in the capital city. The mayor called the rioters criminals and urged the police to „push them off the streets.”
„I won't be calm,” said Demszky at a press conference. „These extremist elements continued to wreak havoc on our city. They tried to occupy more public areas and to damage public institutions.” Fitch Ratings cut the outlook on Hungary's credit ratings to negative from stable, citing the possibility that the protests and street violence may force the government to soften its austerity package. „Recent developments have increased the chances that the government's much-needed reform program, spearheaded by the Prime Minister, will be diluted,” David Heslam, a Fitch credit analyst, said in an e-mailed statement. Pope Benedict XVI, who yesterday met Hungarian pilgrims following the beatification of Sára Salkaházi last week, expressed concern over the situation unfolding in Hungary. „I am monitoring the news from Hungary with worry,” the Pontiff said in Hungarian. (Bloomberg)