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Riots mar Budapest's commemoration of 1956 Uprising

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday October 23, 2006

Budapest- Hungary's commemorations of the 1956 Uprising against Soviet rule were marred by violence Monday as police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protestors. Thousands of protestors, gathered at Deak Square in the city centre, were subjected to a barrage of tear gas from hundreds of riot police who had blocked off the street.

The elderly and young children were among those who fled in panic.

Demonstrators ripped up six-foot letters from an installation set up in honour of the 50th anniversary of the uprising. They removed the word "Szabadsag" (Freedom) and attempted to set it up near the police barricade before being dispersed.

Many protestors then returned and tension began to surge again.

Reports said police have use rubber bullets in other parts of town, and a police officer was stabbed, although he is not in serious condition.

The clashes occurred only a few hundred metres from a huge rally organized by main opposition party Fidesz.

Tens of thousands of right-wing supporters filled the Astoria junction and extended hundreds of metres back into surrounding streets.

Fidesz has boycotted official events in protest over Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurscany's deliberate attempts to mislead the public.

Gyurcsany won a vote of confidence in parliament after a leaked tape revealed him admitting he had lied before general elections in April, but Fidesz has vowed to oust him and is boycotting his parliamentary speeches.

Hungarian police had early Monday broken up a long-running demonstration outside parliament, prompted by the tape, after protestors refused to allow bomb disposal experts to sweep the area before one of the commemorative events.

The displaced protestors took to the streets in several groups and their numbers continued to grow throughout the day.

Police earlier in the day completely cordoned off parliament as delegates from around 50 countries, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Croatian President Stipe Mesic, watched a guard of honour raise a memorial flag.

Baton-wielding police attacked demonstrators as the flag-raising ceremony took place only a few hundred metres away, MTI news agency reported.

The delegates laid flowers at the memorial and then later at the grave of Imre Nagy, who was the prime minister during the uprising.

Hungary suffers from a deep left-right divide, and many right- wingers feel that Gyurcsany is not suitable to lead the commemorations.

"The Gyurcsanys should celebrate on November 4 (the day the Soviets returned to crush the uprising)," one elderly protestor told news website index.hu. "October 23 is ours."

The prime minister's Socialist Party is the natural successor to the communists, and Gyurcsany, a former communist youth leader, has been accused of using his old party links to make a fortune in the 1990s through unsavoury property deals.

Addressing his supporters, Fidesz leader Viktor Orban said many of those responsible for Hungary's long Soviet rule were still in power.

"The search for those responsible was cancelled, and this is why 16 years later the lies have returned," he said.

Protestors have been attempting to compare the current demonstrations to 1956, but Gyurcsany rejected the link in a speech in parliament.

"The 1956 Uprising was about freedom," he said. "In 2006, it isn't about whether or not there should be democracy, but how democracy should be."

Barroso paid tribute to the uprising in a speech to parliament.

"The revolution lit a torch of freedom a flame that went underground to sustain opposition movements across Europe's dictatorships," he said.

"It inspired those who fought for freedom until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and laid the foundations for the enlarged European Union of today," he continued.

More than 2,000 Hungarians and almost 1,000 Soviet troops died during the uprising, which began on October 23, 1956, when secret police fired on students calling for reform and Soviet withdrawal.

Freedom fighters armed with Molotov cocktails and rifles appeared to have driven out the Soviets, but they returned in overwhelming numbers on November 4 to crush the uprising.

Around 200,000 people fled Hungary in the aftermath, and over 200 people, including Imre Nagy, were executed for their role in the revolt.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency