/ 24 October 2006

Budapest calm after night of violent protests

Budapest was calm on Tuesday after a day of anti-government protests in the capital in which about 130 people were injured when police used rubber bullets, teargas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.

Police arrested about 100 people from the crowds who set up barricades and attacked riot police late into the night, marring Monday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of an uprising against Soviet rule.

Protesters have been demanding that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resign since admitting in a tape leaked to the media last month to lying about the economy to win an April election.

Opposition parties criticised both the government and police for their handling of Monday’s violence but the ruling Socialists and police defended their record.

Budapest police chief Peter Gergenyi told state television his units had used only appropriate and necessary force.

Socialist parliamentary caucus leader Ildiko Lendvai said on television that the party still supported the prime minister and that replacing Gyurcsany would jeopardise investor confidence and democracy itself.

The Socialists’ coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, also pledged support for the government. Party chief Gabor Kuncze said the police had only done their job on Monday.

Gyurcsany campaigned on a programme of tax cuts in April but reversed course after becoming the first prime minister in five post communist elections to hold on to power.

Gyurcsany stands firm

Gyurcsany, despite criticism from the opposition and the country’s president, won a parliamentary vote of confidence for his plans to slash the budget deficit, which is the biggest in the EU relative to the size of the economy.

The coalition government controls 210 of 386 parliamentary seats and it would take a Socialist Party rebellion to remove Gyurcsany.

So far, the Socialists see any abandoning of Gyurcsany as a surrender to Fidesz, which held power between 1998-2002.

Krisztian Szabados, director of centrist think tank Political Capital, said: ”I don’t think the prime minister will resign, and I don’t think his resignation would be a solution to the present political crisis.”

Szabados added: ”Fidesz’s aim is to oust the government, and its aim can only be a snap election.”

Foreign investors, who hold billions of dollars of Hungarian bonds, are banking on Gyurcsany’s survival.

They believe he is the only person capable of reducing the budget deficit from 10,1% of gross domestic product this year to 3,2% in 2009 to end economic instability and put the country on a path to the euro. – Reuters