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23 Oct 2006 18:33
Hungarian police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Monday to disperse anti-government protesters marching on Parliament on the 50th anniversary of the country’s uprising against Soviet rule.
Local news agency MTI said several people had been injured in the clashes in central Budapest.
As police pushed the crowd of about 1Â 000 away from the square outside Parliament, protesters seized a T-34 World War II tank, used as an exhibit to commemorate the Hungarian uprising, and drove it towards police lines, MTI said.
“The whole crowd started cheering. The police started firing tear gas, then the tank stopped,” Reuters cameraman Fedja Grulovic said.
The anniversary of the anti-Soviet uprising has been marred by a month of protests following the admission by Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany in a leaked speech that he lied about the economy to win national elections in April.
Protesters seeking to march on Parliament square clashed with police after fighting earlier in the day led to 10 people arrested.
“They are shooting rubber bullets at the protesters now,” a Reuters photographer said.
By 3pm GMT, police had pushed back protesters to Budapest’s central square, Deak Square, and continued to fire tear gas, a witness said.
“Police are firing loads of teargas at about 1Â 000 protesters fighting them,” a Reuters reporter said.
Some protesters, their faces hidden behind scarves, lobbed stones at the police, a witness said.
But officers managed to force the protesters towards a major rally being held by the main right-of-centre Fidesz opposition party, which wants Gyurcsany to quit.
Fidesz leader Viktor Orban urged protesters to refrain from violence but told the rally of tens of thousands of people that the nation was facing an “illegitimate” government.
The possibility of further clashes earlier prompted the government to again close the square outside Parliament, which had been due to host a public event celebrating the uprising at 5.30pm local time, and to ask journalists not to go there.
Even before Gyurcsany’s leaked speech, many on the right questioned whether celebrations should be led by the Socialists, heirs of the communists whose rule was cemented for 33 more years after Soviet troops put down the uprising.
A government source said Gyurcsany would not attend the inauguration of a 1956 memorial this evening.
About 2Â 600 Hungarians died battling Soviet troops, more than 200 were executed for their role in the uprising and 200Â 000 fled the country.
Inside Parliament, the prime minister said Hungarians in 1956 had no choice but to rebel, but the country, which held its first free elections in 1990 and joined the European Union in 2004, was now a modern, democratic state.
“Despite the often justified disappointment and discontent, the majority of Hungarians believe that parliamentary democracy is the most suited to express people’s will and to create law and give a programme to a free Hungary,” he said.—Reuters
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