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Water Cannon, Rubber Bullets Rout Protestors in Budapest

By Craig S. Smith
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WARSAW, POLAND

Violent clashes in Budapest on Monday between police and protesters marred the 50th anniversary of Hungary’s uprising against Soviet domination.

The police used rubber bullets, tear gas and a water cannon to disperse thousands of demonstrators who had gathered for a rally after a group of them took control of a Soviet-era T-34 tank that was on display for the commemorations and drove it toward the police. About two dozen people were injured, none seriously.

The rally was one of several held over the past month calling for the resignation of the Socialist prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, after the leak of a tape recording in which he told fellow party members that he had lied about the economy to win national elections in April.

Gyurcsany, whose party governs in a coalition with the Free Democrat Party, won a vote of confidence this month.

The leaders of the rally Monday wanted to take advantage of the anniversary to press for Gyurcsany’s resignation.

But the clashes bore little resemblance to the 1956 uprising, which ended when Soviet tanks entered the city and opened fire. Thousands of Hungarians were killed in the fighting then, and hundreds more were later executed or imprisoned.

“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 program to a free Hungary,” the prime minister said Monday in a speech in Parliament commemorating the 1956 uprising.

Hungary held its first free elections in 1990 and joined the European Union in 2004. But its democratic and capitalistic transition has come with complications.

The country, which had liberalized its economy ahead of others in Central Europe, quickly became a magnet for foreign investment. But government spending and inflation have crept steadily higher, causing concern among foreign investors, who have called for painful economic reforms.

Gyurcsany, who promised tax cuts during his party’s campaign, has since raised taxes and cut benefits in order to control the ballooning budget deficit, now about 10 percent of overall economic output.

In the recording that gave rise to the protests against his government, he admitted to having lied about the economy. But he has contended that the comments were made in the context of a call for his party to be more serious about reforms.

On Monday near Heroes’ Square, a few miles away from the clashes, Gyurcsany briefly attended the unveiling of a monument commemorating 1956 but left as several hundred people mocked him by chanting phrases from his speech back at him and shouted, “Gyurcsany, go away!”

Many people on the streets called him a dictator and complained that Hungary’s political life continued to be dominated by people from the Communist era. Gyurcsany began his political career as an official of the Young Communist Organization. The Socialist Party is a successor to the Communist Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, which ruled the country until 1989.