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Killings of Roma in Hungary sparks row over racism

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The killings of two Roma people in a grenade attack in southern Hungary sparked a dispute on Wednesday between police and the minority ombudsman, who said it was premature to rule out racial prejudice.

The attack took place overnight Tuesday in Pecs, 250 kms 150 miles) south of Budapest, when a grenade was thrown into a house through a window.

A man and a woman were killed and their two children suffered minor injuries, Baranya county police said.

“We exclude the possibility that it was ethnically motivated,” Baranya police spokesman Peter Zsobrak told Reuters.

“There is no indication the family was the target of an ethnic attack,” he added, saying a special unit was investigating but the motivation appeared to be revenge.

At a news conference, Erno Kallai, ombudsman in charge of national and ethnic minority rights, accused the police of jumping to conclusions.

“We don’t know if this crime was racially motivated or not. But it is not the duty of police to pass judgement on a victim even before it begins its investigation,” he said.

Hungary has one of the largest communities of Roma, also known as gypsies, in eastern Europe, making up 5-to-7 percent of the 10 million population.

Kallai issued a statement in which he said a series of recent attacks on Hungary’s Roma was alarming.

“The ethnicity of victims and the types of crimes lead us to think that these attacks are not coincidental. Roma, who live on the periphery of society, who are most vulnerable, who are subject of prejudice, are under attack,” the statement said.

Earlier this month two Roma were shot dead in an attack on two houses in the northeastern village of Nagycsecs, but police said there was no connection between that and Tuesday’s attack.

In June, firebombs were thrown at three Roma houses in Patka, west of Budapest while in July, shots were fired at three Roma houses in Galgagyork, near Budapest. No one was injured.

A study in October by the Political Capital think tank, commissioned by the Hungarian Anti-Racism Foundation, found the rising strength of Hungary’s far right coincided with growing prejudice against Roma.

“A ... significant threat is a strengthening conflict between the Roma and non-Roma society, which is the most important social conflict of our country,” the study said.

Reporting by Krisztina Than and Balazs Koranyi; editing by Michael Roddy