Violence erupts at anti-government protests in Hungary

A recording was leaked in which the prime minister admitted to lying about the true state of the Hungarian economy.

September 19, 2006 04:24
4 minute read.
Violence erupts at anti-government protests in Hungary

hungary protest 298.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of state television early Tuesday after setting fire to several cars - an increasing violent response to a leaked recording that caught Hungary's prime minister admitting officials had lied about the economy. Rescue services said at least 10 people were injured, including some police, as security officers fired tear gas and water cannon at rock-throwing protesters, who have been demanding the government resign. The violence came after a mainly peaceful protest outside parliament attended by several thousand people began late Sunday, when a recording made in May was leaked to local media in which Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted to repeatedly having lied to the country about the true state of the Hungarian economy to win April's elections. Late Monday, Gyurcsany said that he had no plans to resign and the Socialist members of parliament voted unanimously in support of the prime minister. The government called for an emergency session of the National Security Cabinet for Tuesday morning. By Monday night, the crowd demanding Gyurcsany's resignation outside parliament grew as it was joined by people getting off work and coming to the capital from surrounding areas. Late Monday, several hundred protesters broke away from the larger group outside parliament and marched over to the nearby headquarters of state television, wanting to be allowed to proclaim their demands on a live broadcast. While most of the crowd watched from a safe distance, a few dozen protesters tried to break through police lines and into the TV headquarters, but police drove them back with water cannons and tear gas. Police also tried to disperse the larger protest with water cannon fire but the truck was quickly disabled by the rioters, some of whom escorted the police officers operating the vehicle to safety. Several cars near the TV building were set on fire, their flames scorching the building. The tape was made at a closed-door meeting in late May, weeks after Gyurcsany's government became the first in post-communist Hungary to win re-election. It seemed to confirm the worst accusations leveled at him by the center-right opposition during the campaign - that Hungary's state budget was on the verge of collapse and that Gyurcsany and his ministers were concealing the truth to secure victory. Adding spice to the scandal, Gyurcsany's comments were full of crude remarks and called into doubt the abilities of some of Hungary's most respected economic experts. "We screwed up. Not a little, a lot," Gyurcsany was heard saying. "No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have." The prime minister also told colleagues the government needed to end its duplicitous ways. "I almost died when for a year and a half we had to pretend we were governing. Instead, we lied morning, evening and night. I don't want to do this anymore," he told his fellow Socialists. The 45-year-old Gyurcsany, his party's golden boy since he was elected prime minister in late 2002, said the economy had been kept afloat only through "divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy and hundreds of tricks." Confronted with initial excerpts of the 25-minute recording, which Hungarian state radio posted on its Web site Sunday, Gyurcsany not only acknowledged their authenticity but seemed relieved they had been made public - leading to speculation that the leak came from sources close to him. "It deflates pent-up tensions regarding the reforms and ... can be used to support the government's position that they are urgent and inevitable," said political analyst Zoltan Kiszelly. Others said the leak was an attempt - which may have misfired - by Gyurcsany's Socialist rivals to block his aspirations to become party chairman. "In the long term, I think Gyurcsany's words will have a stabilizing, cathartic effect, both politically and economically," said political commentator Laszlo Seres. "At least to his own voters, Gyurcsany can argue that he shouldn't be punished for his sincerity - that he said these things to stop the lies." Gyurcsany appeared on two live television shows Sunday night, trying to turn the focus of the debate away from his government and into a wider discussion about the failings of Hungary's political elite since the 1990 end of communism. He also defended his foul language, saying it had been used in the context of a meeting of friends and colleagues and that he was proud of his "passionate speech." "The real issue in Hungarian politics today is not who lied and when, but who is able to put an end to this ... who can face up to the lies and half-truths of the past 16 years," Gyurcsany wrote in a Sunday night entry of his blog, introducing a lengthy transcript of his May speech. "The lies are the sins of the whole Hungarian political elite." But on Monday the political mood was against Gyurcsany. Opposition parties demanded his resignation, while President Laszlo Solyom chastised the prime minister for "knowingly" jeopardizing people's faith in democracy and asked Gyurcsany to publicly recognize his error.

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