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Police fired tear gas early Thursday to disperse hundreds of youthful demonstrators confronting them at a main downtown intersection, and chased others down side streets. Several youths were injured, one in the neck by a tear gas canister, but no other incidents were reported by early morning.
The protesters were part of a much larger group that had gathered Wednesday evening in a fourth straight day of demonstrations against Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's government.
The demonstrators demanded Gyurcsany's resignation over his admission on a leaked tape that he lied about the dismal state of the economy.
Hungarian media on Thursday reported smaller demonstrations from half a dozen other cities and towns.
Even as the main protest Wednesday grew to 15,000, Gyurcsany stood his ground. "The policy of raw emotions and radicalism are in no way a viable path," he said, adding: "The government doesn't want to change its policy."
Later, the numbers of protesters dwindled to the hundreds and the chaos gripping the capital appeared to be ebbing.
While the crowd at Parliament has numbered in the thousands over the past days, the trouble has come from groups breaking away to seek mischief.
Police were were out in force and officials said the government could consider a curfew in the Hungarian capital.
Still, it appeared to be the most peaceful night since the first violence erupted Tuesday before daybreak.
A total of 140 officers were injured over two days, including 38 on Wednesday, and 137 people were been detained, said Arpad Szabadfi, deputy chief of national police. Dozens of demonstrators also were hurt, officials said.
Protest in Hungary Draws 15,000
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 21
[..] Instead of resigning in shame or apologizing for having lied, Gyurcsany, 45, has tried to spin the scandal to his political benefit. He not only acknowledged making the comments but posted a transcript of the entire recording on his blog. He said his statements showed he was merely being honest about the sorry state of Hungary's public finances, something voters and politicians alike have been loath to accept.
"The government will hold firm on the only track possible, [he vowed]: the policies of reform to ensure development and economic stability." [..]
Student leaders who had planned a major demonstration for Thursday called it off, saying they were afraid of the potential for more riots. But authorities said they expected other protests to continue.
Demonstrators who gathered outside parliament Wednesday waved red, white and green Hungarian national flags. Others carried banners. "We Need Truth For Peace," read one. Props included a mock coffin with Gyurcsany's photo and a black cloth draped over it.
"Like everyone else, I think he should resign," said Nikolett Boncz, a 24-year-old university student [..]. "It was obvious that he's been lying all along."
With municipal elections scheduled for Oct. 1, Hungarian opposition parties were quick to take advantage of the truth-telling scandal. Viktor Orban, head of the center-right Fidesz party and the prime minister's chief rival, called Gyurcsany "a sick, lying dilettante."
Few people, however, were predicting that Gyurcsany would yield to the pressure and step down. Political analysts and lawmakers from several parties said most Hungarians were disgusted with the prime minister's admission that he had lied to win reelection but were equally upset by the outbreak of violence, which they blamed on his political opponents.
"This has been shocking for Hungarian society, because for the last 16 years we've never had anything like this, never any violent actions," said Krisztian Szabados, managing director of Political Capital, an independent political research and consulting firm in Budapest. "People are faced with a choice between a liar or a guy who burns down the whole city."
Attila Gosze, 23, a Budapest schoolteacher, said he was upset not only by Gyurcsany's duplicity but by the numerous obscenities in his tape-recorded remarks. But he said he could live with the lies and the foul language as long as the prime minister and his party prove able to fix Hungary's ailing economy.
"Perhaps he made a mistake, but he shouldn't resign," Gosze said. "That's his character, and we have to accept him for the way he is. If he does his job right, we'll stand by him."
Campaigning before April's national elections, Gyurcsany and his Socialist Party colleagues promised tax cuts and higher spending on social programs -- a popular platform with voters who had resisted calls to trim a long pattern of deficit spending in Hungary.
A few weeks after winning reelection, however, Gyurcsany told party allies in a closed meeting that the whole campaign had been a charade.
"I almost died, because I had to pretend for 18 months that we were governing," he said [..]. "We kept the secret, while we knew and you did, too, that if the election victory comes, we will have to seriously settle down to work [..]."
Instead of cutting taxes, Gyurcsany and his coalition partners have moved to raise them. They have also laid off public-sector workers and tried to trim spending.
Although opposition parties have pummeled the Socialists in recent months for their unpopular economic policies, they also campaigned last spring on a platform of cutting taxes and raising spending. Analysts and other lawmakers say that if nothing else, Gyurcsany's unvarnished comments will make it more difficult for all Hungarian politicians to make promises they know they cannot keep.
"It's unfortunately true that both big parties have been lying to the Hungarian people," said Matyas Eorsi, a lawmaker with the Liberals, a free-market party. "Now, the time of truth has finally come for Hungary. The rules of the market economy are also the rules for Hungary. We cannot ignore the rules anymore."
Hungarian protesters vow to keep up pressure on PM
Wed Sep 20, 2006 9:40pm ET
[..] More than 200 people have been injured and 137 arrested in the two nights of clashes that police said involved soccer hooligans who had hijacked peaceful anti-government protests.
An estimated 15,000 gathered at the neo-Gothic parliament on Wednesday with only minor incidents between riot police and a couple of hundred who broke off from the main demonstration.
Officials followed through on promises to crack down hard on what they have called a small group of hooligans who have fought pitched battles [..].
A Gallup poll conducted on Tuesday showed 43 percent of respondents believed he should resign, while 38 pct said he does not need to step down.
Press split over Hungary turmoil
Tuesday, 19 September
Hungary's leading newspapers are sharply divided over Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's admission that his Socialist Party lied in order to secure victory in April's general election.
"Drama and catharsis" says the headline in the left-leaning Nepszava [..]. The paper accuses the centre-right Fidesz opposition of deliberately organising the demonstrations for political gain.
"Fidesz is determined to provoke political chaos to force the government to resign," it says.
The country's best-selling newspaper, the centre-left [former communist - nimh] Nepszabadsag, says most Hungarians already knew they had been misled by the Socialists on economic policy, and argues that the prime minister was simply coming clean.
"What we have learnt," the paper says, "is that Ferenc Gyurcsany was honest".
His government, it adds, should now "have the guts" to pursue the reform plans it originally lied about, or resign. [..]
Other leading papers believe it is just a matter of time before Mr Gyurcsany resigns.
What he really meant by his admission, says the conservative Magyar Nemzet, is that Hungarians should now "forget what they think about democracy".
For this reason, the paper insists, "not much remains for the left to do other than to sack him". [..]
The liberal Magyar Hirlap [says] "It is impossible [..] to predict how the political elite will survive this scandal".
"Their demands were a joke - something like: Gyurcsany out, new elections, glory to Greater Hungary and promotion for their favourite football club .. They were a drunken, disorganised mess - nothing but a set of hooligans."
oh boy. i haven't seen any news for 5 weeks. seems the world didn't stop out of courtesy, and i'll have some catching up to do... what the...?!
Though its still also actually true, what you say. I mean, 95% of the Budapest population just did the same as what they normally do, tonight (and last night and the night before). The cafes were full, the streets too. Writing about all this, I was probably more occupied with it than 9 out of 10 other Budapesters - definitely more than anyone else in the cafe just now.
The correspondent of our paper was ear-witness to the following conversation: "How much for half a litre mineral water? Answer: 400 forints. You are not Hungarian" "Why, are you Hungarian, because you have a flag?"
And tonight it was reeaally quiet there. Just the ten of us or so, never seen so few people there. The waiter waved, well, yeah. And mentioned that they might have to stay inside tonight, on guard, so the windows wouldnt smashed in or the like.
A poll by private pollster Szonda Ipsos showed 51 percent believed Orban had contributed to the riots while 57 percent said all politicians lied and therefore Gyurcsany's comments on the tape did not cause the crisis.
The government's popularity has dropped to 22 percent of the overall population from around 40 percent at the April election, according to Szonda, and to 34 percent among people who would definitely vote in the local elections.
Fidesz has 34 percent support in the overall population, the poll showed, and 54 percent among those would definitely vote in the local elections.
Hungarians continue to pressure leader
[..] At least 20,000 people flocked to the square in front of Hungary's parliament Saturday night, the biggest gathering since protests began a week ago.
Gyurcsany remained defiant. In an interview published Sunday he said that he still planned to seek his party's chairmanship next year and that the results of next Sunday's municipal elections would not affect his plans.
"Neither the government's actions nor what happens in the party depend on the final outcome" of the municipal elections, Gyurcsany told the newspaper Vasarnap Reggel. "I'm going to fight for these policies and part of it is the modernization of the Socialist Party."
Separately, he linked the center-right opposition to rioting earlier this week that left hundreds of people injured and caused damages costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"This is not only the tragedy of the Hungarian right but also of Hungarian democracy," Gyurcsany told reporters.
Unlike previous protests, no violent incidents were reported Saturday night. Police said they detained six people for minor infractions during the rally.
In other parts of the country, one Socialist Party office was vandalized and another set on fire, but there were no reports of injuries.
Protesters vowed to continue demonstrating even after the municipal elections.
"Our protest will not cease until the Cabinet resigns," said Tamas Molnar, one of the organizers. "We want to bring down the current post-communist government."
Molnar also said they were planning to launch a "peaceful, friendly and creative" civic resistance campaign, without providing more details.
Saturday night's big turnout had been expected. The protest included people who had planned to join a separate political rally by Fidesz, the main opposition party, before it was postponed due to security concerns.
One speaker Saturday, Laszlo Toekes, the ethnic Hungarian Protestant bishop whose protest when he was a young priest in Romania sparked the 1989 anti-communist revolution in that nation, suggested Gyurcsany was a greater criminal than the demonstrators who rioted early Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Who is really guilty? He who sets a car on fire, or he who destroys a whole nation?" asked Toekes, whose following is mostly among right-wing nationalists.
A masked man introduced himself as Gyoergy Budahazi, who is being sought by police for damage to a monument commemorating the Soviet liberation of Budapest from the Nazis. He received prolonged applause before disappearing into the crowd. [..]
Press sympathy for Gyurcsany
Sunday, 24 September 2006
Hungary's embattled Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany receives a sympathetic hearing in some of the country's newspapers.
The Sunday Vasarnapi Hirek praises Mr Gyurcsany for telling the truth about the country's economic situation rather than sweeping it under the carpet.
"He decided to tell the truth, which of course hurts, rather than continuing to lie, which does not.
"It would be a moral crisis if he had told the truth hitherto and were now to start lying," the paper concludes.
Comment in another Sunday paper, Vasarnap Reggel, says "the government is legitimate and will remain so, as will the prime minister".
However, it says that Mr Gyurcsany is under attack from forces within his own socialist party as well as the opposition over his proposed austerity package, and with local elections looming, "he can't expect much good".
A commentator in the pro-socialist Nepszabadsag saves its ire for Viktor Orban, the former prime minister and current leader of the main opposition party, Fidesz.
It accuses him of playing a double game, of seeking to be at the forefront of system change while fretting that democracy in Hungary is in danger.
"He is aiming his words disguised as criticism of the system at one person: Ferenc."
In contrast, a leading article in the pro-Fidesz Magyar Nemzet praises the protesters for personifying "honour, solidarity, democracy, freedom of speech, and uncensored opinions.
"Some people must have had a huge fright at the overwhelming force of the genie let out of the bottle," it concludes.
Hungary: country without consequences
22 - 9 - 2006
The political furore in Hungary over the prime minister's admission of lying to citizens is payback for problems unresolved after the communist era, says George Schöpflin.
The crisis in Hungary over the recorded comments of the prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány to a party meeting and the explosion of protest they provoked is far from resolved. Moreover, there are deeper structural factors that make that resolution extremely difficult. At first glance Hungary looks like a fairly normal democratic country with a left wing and a right wing, but closer scrutiny shows three serious flaws in democratic practice.
First, in a way it is not unfair to regard Hungarian democracy - and this applies to quite a few of the former communist states - as an incomplete democracy. Democratic legitimation is in place and is secured through elections, so that power is exercised with the consent of the people. But in the absence of democratic values like accountability, transparency, self-limitation and responsibility for decision-making, the outcome is rather less than democratic.
[..] The polarisation centres on various issues, among them perhaps most importantly the problem of Hungarian nationhood itself [..]. The left [..] demonises the right as fascist, anti-semitic, and xenophobic. The right counterattacks by calling the left traitors and anti-national. [..] In Hungary's deeply divided political culture, almost everything is perceived as a function of party politics (in Budapest this goes as far as identifiably leftwing and rightwing restaurants). [..]
The polarisation has other anti-democratic consequences - if all developments are interpreted in partisan terms, there can be no autonomous public sphere and public opinion is itself politicised, with the result that the principled democratic critique of power is marginalised and ignored. Some Hungarian commentators have described the Ferenc Gyurcsány government as the "so-what government" and Hungary as the "country without consequences".
Parallel with this absence of criticism has been a decline in transparency and accountability, together with a rise in corruption (noted by Transparency International). So, for example, tendering for government contracts is opaque, and more than once companies with ties to the coalition have received contracts in a very unclear fashion. The ministry of finance has repeatedly resorted to creative accounting in its reporting of a deteriorating economic performance. [..]
Autonomous institutions have one by one come under pressure to do the government's bidding - among them the Hungarian national bank, the Hungarian central statistical office, the chief procurator, and the financial supervisory authority. [..]
The deeper consequences of this crisis remain unclear, though various scenarios can be sketched:
The key to all these scenarios is the self-legitimation - the self-confidence - of the left; the extent to which it can persist in its belief that even with a serious and growing upheaval on its hands it can hold onto power; and at what point, if at all, this self-belief will collapse.
- the left coalition and Gyurcsány will successfully ride out the crisis and restore order
- the wing of the socialists that is quite likely to have leaked the tape may successfully persuade the Hungarian Socialist Party to dump Gyurcsány (although there is at present no plausible candidate to succeed him)
- the violence escalates, the government responds with needless counterforce, and this triggers off a wave of protests producing a potentially revolutionary situation [now no longer seems likely - nimh]
- Gyurcsány's self-confidence collapses suddenly and he resigns, leaving a vacuum at the centre of power
- Gyurcsány accepts the opposition's proposal to set up a government of experts (unlikely)
- the socialists ask for external political support as a way of establishing Hungarian society's quiescence, on the grounds that "Europe" has higher credibility
[Seems more like an additional strategy to the first scenario than a separate one. So far the EU has refrained from all but the most terse of comments, but it has certainly not lent any support to the protestors either - nimh]
- the opposition directly challenges the government's legitimacy, using the argument that the government is in power only because it has lied
[This is what it has been doing from the start, but that just begs the question what it will yield. Personally I think that if they had protested the outrage of Gyurcsany's lies and called for his resignation, but had not gone on to retrospectively reject the legitimacy of the past elections, making it seem like they were attacking the democratic state itself, it would have had a better chance of mobilising people beyond its own immediate camp - nimh]
EU backs Hungary's budget plans
Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Hungary's programme of austerity measures to try and gets its economy back on track has been backed by the European Commission.
With Ferenc Gyurcsany's struggling government planning to raise taxes and cut social spending, Brussels said it wanted a "rigorous implementation". [..]