April 22, 2011 / 11:23 AM / 9 years ago

Hungarian Roma flee homes fearing vigilante attacks

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hundreds of Roma residents fled from a village in northern Hungary on Friday fearing possible attacks by far-right vigilantes.

A Roma boy looks out of his home window as members and supporters of the Hungarian radical right-wing party Jobbik march to demonstrate against what they call "gypsy crime" in Hejoszalonta, east of Budapest, April 2, 2011. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

A vigilante group called Vedero (Defense Force) said it had set up a training camp in the area to hold exercises during the Easter weekend, but denied trying to provoke Roma residents.

Tension has been high in the village of Gyongyospata, about 90 km (55 miles) east of Budapest, since 2,000 uniformed men marched through a Roma shanty town there last month.

Aladar Horvath, leader of the Roma Civil Rights Movement, accused the government of doing little to protect Roma families. He said 276 people were moved to a youth camp in Budapest and another location in eastern Hungary on Friday.

“We had called on the Red Cross to help evacuate these people,” Horvath told Reuters. “They are scared, and they want to be safe for the Easter holiday.”

“Holding war games by Defense Force during the Easter holiday goes beyond anyone’s imagination. The government is standing by, meanwhile, doing nothing. Police were ordered to Gyongyospata with a huge delay.”

The Defense Force said its 3-day camp in Gyongyospata would prepare youth for self-defense, and those interested should bring along boxing gloves and Airsoft weapons.

“United, we will be strong and we can protect the nation from internal and external enemies alike,” it said on its website.

The various vigilante groups enjoy the backing of the far right party Jobbik, which gained 46 seats in Hungary’s 386-member parliament in last year’s election and says the government has not done enough to ensure public safety.

Another vigilante group, called Brighter Future, has been patrolling the streets of another town called Hajduhadhaz in eastern Hungary for weeks.

Hungary has long struggled to reintegrate its Roma, who lost their jobs en masse when communism collapsed. A Roma generation has grown up since then with few memories of regular work. Many end up in jail.

Friction between Roma and the rest of population is endemic. More than a half-dozen Roma were killed in a string of attacks in 2008 and 2009. A group of men accused in those killings went on trial in Budapest earlier this month.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Maria Golovnina

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