Hungarians riot on revolution's 50th anniversary

At least 40 people, including some police officers, were injured.

October 24, 2006 10:37
4 minute read.
Hungarians riot on revolution's 50th anniversary

hungary riot 88. (photo credit: )


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Fifty years after the start of Hungary's anti-Soviet revolution, tanks again rolled down the streets Budapest. But instead of the Red Army, a pair of unarmed tanks - part of an exhibit about the 1956 uprising - were hijacked by anti-government protesters, who used them to confront police. At dawn, police had expelled several hundred protesters from Kossuth Square outside parliament, where many had been camping for weeks, demanding the prime minister be dismissed - the government planned to use the square for some of Monday's official memorial events. However, by the afternoon, police were firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse the thousands of protesters, most of them peacefully demanding to be allowed back to Kossuth Square to commemorate the 1956 revolution. At least 40 people, including some police officers, were injured, rescue officials said. The protests began Sept. 17, when Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was heard admitting on a leaked recording that the government had lied about the economy before winning re-election in April. Two nights of rioting last month left 150 police and dozens of participants injured. In one of the main showdowns on Monday near Deak Square, the city's main subway hub, hundreds of police behind three water cannons slowly advanced on the protesters. A few hundred rioters threw bottles and rocks at the police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets back at them. A police helicopter circled low above the crowd. A man drove the unarmed tank among the protesters, until he was pulled out by police who rushed the vehicle. The other tank was pushed by the rioters toward the police. Within the crowd, protesters could be seen carrying placards with 7-foot (2-meter) tall letters spelling out the word "freedom" in Hungarian. The protesters had vowed to stay at Kossuth Square until Gyurcsany was dismissed, but police pushed them out of the square after they refused to submit to security checks. But authorities did not dismantle the dozens of tents and were expected to allow the demonstrators to return after Monday's events. At the same time, Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union, the main center-right opposition group, was holding their own 1956 commemoration just a few blocks away. According to MTI, more than 100,000 people were at the rally. Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, a former prime minister, said his party would propose holding a binding referendum on the package of reforms introduced by the government to lower what is the largest state budget deficit in the European Union. "People should be given the opportunity to vote on what is being done against their will," Orban told a large crowd. Late Monday, President Laszlo Solyom - citing security concerns - canceled his scheduled appearance at the unveiling of the central 1956 memorial near Heroes' Square, where an 18-meter-high (60-feet-high) statue of Stalin was toppled by the revolutionaries a half century ago. Gyurcsany attended the unveiling, but was loudly jeered by thousands of people standing behind police barricades. Shortly after Tuesday on 1:30 a.m. (2330 GMT), police used snow plows to break through makeshift barricades set up by rioters at both ends of the Elizabeth Bridge over the Danube River which divides Buda from Pest. Several hundred officers quickly dispersed the last 300 or so rioters left in the area and cleanup crews around the city picked up debris and prepared the roads for Tuesday's work day. Police could be seen detaining numerous rioters and the smell of tear gas was still strong in several areas of downtown Budapest. The 1956 student protests began on the afternoon of Oct. 23, and by nightfall had turned into the armed uprising. Around 2,800 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the Red Army attack, which was launched Nov. 4, 1956. After the military defeat, strikes and protests continued for several weeks until a Soviet crackdown definitively ended the uprising in January 1957. Some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country and at least 225 Hungarians accused of participating in the revolution were executed - including Imre Nagy, the communist-turned-democrat who was briefly retuned to power in 1956. The communists were in power in Hungary until 1989. Many had questioned the right of Gyurcsany's Socialists - heirs of the communist party - to lead the official commemorations. But Gyurcsany, 45, said his government had a legitimate claim to the principles of the revolution. He described Nagy as "the political predecessor of every prime minister" of post-communist Hungary. Barroso said the 1956 revolution "lit a torch of freedom" which later helped topple dictatorships across Europe. On Sunday, Solyom had pleaded for national unity, trying to keep the bitter political divisions from spilling over into the celebrations. "Oct. 23 could be a real national holiday if we wanted it to be, and if we took the steps leading back to the unity and uniqueness of 1956," Solyom said at a gala event at the Hungarian State Opera that launched the official ceremonies.

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