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Hungary: Opposition Demands Premier's Resignation After Riot

Rioters at the television building on September 18 (epa) PRAGUE, September 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition parties in Hungary are calling for Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's resignation after overnight riots in Budapest saw more than 100 people injured.

The riots were provoked by the emergence of a recording on September 17 in which Gyurcsany said his party had lied for years in order to win reelection. The riots were the worst in Hungary since the end of communism a decade and a half ago.

Of those injured in the riots, most were police officers, one of whom suffered serious head injuries.

Riot Breaks Out After Broadcast

The violence followed a mainly peaceful demonstration outside parliament attended by several thousand people, who took to the streets after the local media broadcast a recording of Gyurcsany admitting his party had lied in order to win April's elections.
"We lied through the last 1 1/2 or two years. It was entirely clear that what we said was not the truth." -- Gyurcsany

Late on September 18, a few dozen protesters tried to break into the television building, but were repelled by police with water cannons and tear gas. Several cars near the building were set on fire, their flames scorching the building and damaging furniture inside.

Police had to call in several thousand reinforcements from across the country before they managed to retake the television building and chase away the protesters early today, some five hours after the trouble had started.

'All Means' To Restore Order

Gyurcsany told reporters today that the overnight riots were "the longest and darkest night" for Hungary since the collapse of communism in 1989. He also said he would continue with economic reforms. He refused to resign, as protesters had demanded, and vowed to use "all means to restore order."

"We have a right to protest, but I guess and I know and I am sure that we do not have a right to break into the national institutions," he said. "It is unacceptable."

Gyurcsany has faced calls to step down (epa file photo)

Higher taxes and fees for health care and university tuition had prompted protests before the release of the tape sparked the violent backlash. About 500 antigovernment demonstrators began a new protest outside parliament today. Police presence appeared light.

'What We Said Was Not The Truth'

In the leaked recording, Gyurcsany could be heard at a party meeting on May 26 admitting that his government coalition, which in April became the first in postcommunist Hungary to win reelection, had lied about the economy.

"We don't have too many choices," Gyurcsany is heard saying. "The reason is because we screwed it up. Not a little bit, but very much. None of the other European countries have done such stupid things that we did. We can explain it. Eventually, we lied through the last 1 1/2 or two years. It was entirely clear that what we said was not the truth."

It was not immediately clear who had leaked the recording. Gyurcsany has not denied making the statements that triggered the violence.

'Moral Crisis'

President Laszlo Solyom criticized Gyurcsany for throwing the country into a "moral crisis" with his remarks.

"The reaction of the prime minister deepened this crisis because he tried to share his personal responsibility with the political judgments of the last 16 years," Solyom added. "No goal can legitimize somebody endangering our trust in democracy, even less when this is done deliberately and proudly. I call on the prime minister to admit this in public."

However, members of Gyurcsany's Socialist Party in parliament voted unanimously to support him, as did the Socialists' coalition partners, the Free Democrats.

In Brussels, Hungary's European Union commissioner, Laszlo Kovacs, said the unrest in Budapest put the "stability and future of the country" at risk.

But Kovacs stopped short of directly criticizing Gyurcsany, and called for political consensus for the sake of Hungary's future. "It's much more than party politics," he said. "What is at stake is the stability and the future of the country on the long term."

Opposition Supports Protesters

The main opposition party has called for Gyurcsany to resign. Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is seen as Gyurcsany's nemesis, said the latter had become a "persona non grata" in Hungarian politics.

The opposition has backed the protesters (epa)

Orban's party Fidesz late on September 18 expressed its complete solidarity with the demonstrators, who included militant nationalists and known soccer hooligans.

The protests come less than two weeks before municipal elections set for October 1. Polls show Fidesz ahead with 34 percent of voter support compared with 23 percent for the ruling coalition led by Gyurcsany.

Gyurcsany, 44, a young-communist-turned-businessman, has never been a stranger to controversy. His rivals have criticized him over his wealth, property deals he struck in the early years of privatization, and his opulent lifestyle.

He is also known for his outspoken style, which has led him to embarrassing public mistakes One such mistake included branding the Saudi soccer team "terrorists," which triggered a diplomatic spat with some Arab states.

(compiled from agency reports)