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Police and rioters clash after Hungary protests

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Police and rioters clashed on the streets of Budapest on Thursday after about one hundred thousand people rallied to demand Hungary’s Socialist prime minister resign.

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The opposition rally, the biggest since a campaign to oust Ferenc Gyurcsany started late last year after he admitted lying about the budget to win the 2006 elections, was peaceful.

But fighting flared when protesters later tried to free one of their leaders.

Water cannon and teargas were used to clear the streets of several thousand mostly far-right radicals who threw stones at police detaining a man they say led the storming of state television in September.

Refuse bins were set on fire and barricades put up, with one set on fire, although there were no immediate reports of serious injuries among police or protesters. Witnesses said protesters had beaten some photographers.

“Suddenly around 10 of them approached the photographers, got two on the ground and started kicking them,” a Reuters photographer said.

Unlike the protests in September and October of last year, in which 800 police and demonstrators were injured, the violence on Thursday’s national holiday to celebrate the country’s 1848 uprising against Habsburg rule was confined to fringe groups.

“I hope they cannot make too much of a mess as there is no mass support behind them,” Gyorgy Szilvasy, the minister overseeing national security said.


At a midday ceremony, Budapest mayor Gabor Demszky, a prominent dissident under communist rule, had to be protected with umbrellas against eggs thrown from a whistling, booing crowd of far-right protesters.

Gyurcsany was labelled a “communist pig” and a “traitor” by protesters outside parliament, which is still barricaded.

Since winning elections last April, Gyurcsany’s government has broken campaign promises by hiking taxes and cutting spending to rein in the budget deficit which, at 10 percent of gross domestic product, is the biggest in the European Union.

He has won the approval of investors who have pushed the forint up 10 percent against the euro in the past six months as he is seen to be making the first real attempt to break Hungary’s five years of surging budget deficits.

But the 45-year-old real estate millionaire has deepened the political divide in Hungary and is blamed by his opponents for creating a climate of fear.

The leaked tape in which Gyurcsany admitted he had lied about the budget and the police action last October have also reminded people of the communist roots of the Socialists.

“For everything happening here today, the crisis, the street riots, the police brutality, the government alone is responsible,” Fidesz leader Viktor Orban told his supporters.

Additional reporting by Andras Gergely and Gergely Szakacs