Hungary charges former top communist official with war crimes
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian prosecutors charged a former Communist Party official with war crimes for the first time on Wednesday over the suppression of an anti-Soviet uprising in 1956.
More than two decades after the fall of communism, the prosecution of Bela Biszku became possible under a law that stipulates war crimes and crimes against humanity do not lapse.
The 2011 law, pushed through by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling center-right Fidesz party, allows for the prosecution of crimes committed under the communist dictatorship.
The Budapest prosecutors said Biszku, 92, was charged over his role on a committee of the Communist Party involved in ordering the shootings of civilians during protests in Budapest and in the town of Salgotarjan in December 1956.
"The Budapest Prosecutor's Office has today submitted to the Budapest Court of Justice an indictment in the criminal proceedings launched against Bela Biszku for war crimes and other crimes," the prosecution said in a statement.
The maximum sentence for war crimes, which they said Biszku had committed as an abettor, is life imprisonment.
Biszku, who was detained last year, is also charged with keeping ammunition without permission after 11 pieces were seized during a search of his home in September 2012.
The 1956 uprising was a nationwide revolt against the Soviet-backed government in Budapest and its policies and represented the first major threat to Moscow's control of eastern Europe since the end of World War Two.
Despite the crushing of the uprising, it had a lasting impact on how the communist regimes of eastern Europe were perceived and played a role in the collapse of Soviet rule across the region more than three decades later.
Large numbers of civilians were killed or arrested during the suppression of the uprising. Its figurehead Imre Nagy was executed for treason in 1958 for establishing a government in defiance of Moscow's rule over eastern Europe.
In the eastern Hungarian town of Salgotarjan, 46 people were shot dead, including women and children, the prosecutors said in their statement.
Prosecutors said last year, at the time of Biszku's detention, that he had denied the accusations.
He served as Hungary's interior minister from 1957 to 1961.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Gareth Jones)
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