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Mass Rally Targets Hungary's Premier

September 24, 2006|From the Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary — A square in front of Hungary's parliament overflowed Saturday with demonstrators demanding that the prime minister quit in the largest protest yet since a recording was leaked in which he admitted lying to the people.

About 20,000 people filled Kossuth Square by mid-evening Saturday, double the size of the crowds seen earlier in the week.

The square was a sea of national -- and nationalist -- flags. An English-language sign perched on a police barrier proclaimed: "If you want to be president, come to Hungary and lie."

Hundreds of police, most in riot gear with helmets and shields at the ready, were in the square or stationed nearby.

The large turnout had been expected. Some who attended had planned to join a political rally by Fidesz, the main opposition party, before it was postponed because of security concerns.

The crowd diminished to less than 1,000 shortly before 2 a.m. today, but the turnout of 20,000 reflected continued support for those demanding that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resign for acknowledging that his government lied about the dire state of the economy.

A key speaker was Laszlo Toekes, the ethnic Hungarian Protestant bishop whose protest helped spark the 1989 anti-communist Romanian revolution. He suggested that Gyurcsany was a greater criminal than violent demonstrators who rioted last week.

"Who is really guilty?" said Toekes. "He who sets a car on fire, or he who destroys a whole nation?"

Protesters pledged to continue demonstrating even after municipal elections Oct. 1.

"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 a "peaceful, friendly and creative" civic resistance campaign was planned for today, without providing details. The protests began Sept. 17, drawing thousands.

Many are outraged over Gyurcsany's admission that his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy. A tape of the comments was made in a closed-door meeting in late May, weeks after Gyurcsany's government became the first in post-communist Hungary to win reelection.

Separately, police battled hundreds of radicals trying to storm strategic or symbolic buildings, including the Socialist headquarters. Violence has left hundreds injured, and considerable material damage.

Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said Saturday that municipal workers were removing garbage cans, debris from construction sites and any other movable materials from the downtown area that they feared rioters could use against police.

Demszky estimated that the riots had caused nearly $275,000 in damage. More than 150 people have been arrested.

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