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Hungarian Demonstrators Demand Premier's Resignation

DW staff / AFP (jp)
September 19, 2006

In the Hungarian capital Budapest, demonstrators clashed with police and took over the state television building to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Hungarian Premier Ferenc Gyurcsany has come under pressure for his commentsImage: dpa

Demonstrators began a rampage in Budapest Monday night, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and briefly occupying the television building as police used teargas and water cannons to try and restore order.

The right-wing demonstrators took to Szabadsag Square, where the television building is located, in a bid to oust the socialist Prime Minister after Gyurcsany admitted he had lied to voters to win re-election.

Police managed to empty the square by dawn, leaving burnt-out cars, ripped-up benches and overturned rubbish bins. More than 100 people were injured, most of them policemen, who were clearly outnumbered by the attackers, municipal police said.

Gyurcsany vowed to crack down if there were a repeat of the violence, receiving backing from the Socialist coalition partner, the alliance of Free Democrats on Tuesday.

Leaked tape

The protests were sparked by a tape leaked to media.

Ungarn Proteste und Demonstrationen gegen Regierung in Budapest
The demonstrators included right-wing protestersImage: AP

The demonstrators wanted to get inside the building to read a petition after Hungarian public radio broadcast a closed-door discussion between Gyurcsany and his party's deputies last May in which he said candidly the government has accomplished nothing but "rubbish" and "lied all along for the past 18 months -- two years."

The 44-year-old prime minister admitted Sunday that the tape-recording -- from an undisclosed source -- was authentic.

"We did everything to keep that secret to the end of the electoral campaign," the prime minister also said on the tape.

"A vulgar speech"

The Socialist-Liberal coalition easily won re-election last April. But under pressure from Brussels, the Hungarian government this summer announced very unpopular austerity measures -- including higher taxes and lower subsidies -- to reduce Hungary's record public deficit in order to work toward meeting the strict criteria for adopting the euro currency.

The charismatic Gyurcsany, a former communist who made a fortune in business before turning to politics, said on his Internet blog after his comments became known that he regretted his sometimes vulgar speech. He wrote that he acted out of his "passion" for the country and his desire to push through the needed economic reforms.

The conservative opposition Fidesz party of former prime minister Viktor Orban said Monday it would seek to force Gyurcsany out of office as he has become a "persona non grata" in Hungarian politics.

"There is a moral crisis unfolding and Ferenc Gyurcsany should make it clear that his comments referred to their period in government," Tibor Navracsics, Fidesz faction leader told the media Tuesday morning.

Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom agreed, declaring Monday that the country was "in moral crisis."

Election repercussions

EU Erweiterung Ungarn Parlament in Budapest
Is Hungary in moral crisis?Image: AP

Fidesz late Monday expressed its complete solidarity with the demonstrators, who included militant nationalists and known football hooligans.

Thousands also joined demonstrations in other several towns in Hungary.

The Hir TV commercial television channel, which is close to Fidesz, broadcast the Budapest demonstration live.

The prime minister said the demonstrations "by radicals in the streets would not solve problems."

Socialist MPs meanwhile expressed unanimous backing for the prime minister and his program.

With municipal elections set for Oct. 1, polls show Fidesz ahead with 34 percent of voter support compared with 23 percent for the ruling coalition.

But a snap poll of 500 people on Monday by Szonda Ipsos revealed that 43 percent of people thought Gyurcsany should resign immediately, while 47 percent said he should stay and 10 percent had no opinion.

Hungary, which joined the European Union in 2004, presented Brussels earlier this month with a revised convergence plan to meet the requirements for integration into the euro zone.

Budapest is counting on lowering the current deficit at 10.1 percent of gross domestic product to 3.2 percent of GDP within three years.