Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at far-right protestors on the streets of Budapest on Monday as a divided Hungary marked the 50th anniversary of its anti-Soviet uprising.
Protestors clashed with police in Budapest on Monday
Police also used water cannon to disperse thousands of demonstrators across the city, with one group of protestors battling to reach the parliament where Hungarian and foreign dignitaries held ceremonies to mark the 1956 uprising.
The main opposition right-wing Fidesz party, which has sought to compare Hungary's current prime minister to the former Soviet oppressors, boycotted the official ceremonies led by the Socialist government.
That boycott, combined with the riots, torpedoed efforts to put on a show of national unity half a century after the failed revolt that sealed Hungary's fate as a satellite state of Moscow until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Riot police arrest protesters in Budapest
Some of the protestors battling police in Budapest were Fidesz supporters, who have been out on the streets in their thousands every day for the past two weeks to demand the ouster of Prime
Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Others were far-right extremists equally opposed to Gyurcsany, who has admitted to lying to voters on the economy to win re-election in April.
"Transitions are never easy"
Hungarian and foreign dignitaries assembled in the ornate parliament building, just a few dozen metres (yards) away from pitched battles between riot police and protestors, listened to
speeches on the legacy of the 1956 uprising.
"Transitions are never easy, but Hungary's achievements over the past 16 years are substantial," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told them.
Barroso was among 19 European presidents, a couple of prime
ministers, the king of Norway and the head of NATO who were in Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, for the anniversary.
"The people of Hungary now have a great opportunity in their grasp," he said. "By uniting, with purpose, they will be able to
reap the full benefits that membership of the European Union offers."
But unity appeared more elusive than ever before in the post-communist era, despite the legacy of the uprising in which a 10-million-strong nation came together in a mass upheaval against Stalinist oppression.
The uprising, which started out as a peaceful student protest on October 23, 1956, turned into armed resistance across Hungary. Youngsters, dubbed freedom fighters, used guns and petrol bombs in fierce street battles against Soviet tanks sent to put down the protests.
The uprising was crushed two weeks later. The crackdown resulted in the death of 2,800 Hungarians. A further 12,000 were wounded and 200,000 fled to the West.
Fidesz remains aloof
Fidesz went ahead with its boycott of Monday's ceremonies despite an appeal by the country's president to celebrate the
uprising as one people.
The party has sought to compare Prime Minister Gyurcsany to the former Soviet oppressors, saying both had lied to keep power, after revelations that Gyurcsany misled voters on the economy to win re-election in April.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany
On Monday Gyurcsany's told Fidesz and its leader, former prime minister Viktor Orban, not to confuse current political debates with the uprising.
"1956 was about the fight for freedom, while 2006 is about the order of freedom and democracy.... The 1956 revolution was replaced by the debates of a democracy," he said in parliament.
Gyurcsany has admitted to lying to voters in a recording leaked in mid-September, which triggered more than a month of
anti-government protests that degenerated into street violence.
But he said that this was merely an "excuse" for Fidesz's boycott.
Fidesz has for years refused to commemorate the uprising anniversary with the Socialists because it says that they are the inheritors of the communist party that colluded with the Soviets
back in 1956.
The 45-year-old Gyurcsany was born five years after the uprising but was a communist youth leader in the 1980s.
Angry protests and clashes
The unrest that gripped Budapest started Monday morning when police fought with a small group of far-right protestors, detaining 10 of them and leaving several people with bloodied faces after the confrontation.
There followed a lull of several hours. But by late afternoon, trouble had broken out across the capital. Several hundred riot police on downtown Deak square were firing tear gas canisters and using three water cannons to disperse the crowd, an AFP reporter said.
Mobile units were chasing small groups of protesters into nearby streets, while helicopters hovered overhead. Mounted police also charged protestors in some areas.
MTI news agency reported clashes between police and protesters in two other locations, near the Western Railway Station and near the parliament building, with protestors hurling rocks and pieces of metal at security forces. Some far-rightists carried flags used by the pro-Nazi Arrow
Cross party regime during World War II.