- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BUDAPEST — Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany vowed yesterday to stay in office even after rioters angered by his admission of lying about the economy stormed the headquarters of Hungarian state television and briefly forced it off the air.

Officials said about 150 people were injured in the violence, including 102 police officers, one of whom suffered a serious head injury.

Today police and rioters clashed again on the streets of Budapest. The protest was calmer than on the previous evening.

Mr. Gyurcsany defiantly refused to resign as protesters have demanded, vowing to carry out reform measures that will nurse the economy back to health.

Mr. Gyurcsany also condemned the “vandalism” of the 2,000 to 3,000 protesters who stormed the TV building, but said he had complete confidence in the police’s ability to restore order.

He called it “the longest and darkest night” for Hungary since the fall of communism.

“I’m staying, and I’m doing my job. I’m extremely committed to fulfilling my program, fiscal adjustments and reforms,” he said. “I know it’s very difficult for the people, but it’s the only direction for Hungary.”

Several thousand police reinforcements retook the television headquarters early yesterday after hours of violent clashes with protesters demanding that Mr. Gyurcsany step down for lying about the economy to win April elections.

“They broke through the barricade and started to go in and break everything that they could find. They started looting and taking everything they could,” Balazs Bende, an editor at state broadcaster Magyar Televizio, said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

He said the violence forced the station to cancel all programing and temporarily go off the air early yesterday.

By daylight, police controlled the area around the TV building, which includes the National Bank of Hungary and the U.S. Embassy, and broadcasting resumed.

The protests were triggered by a recording that surfaced Sunday on which Mr. Gyurcsany admitted lying “morning, evening and night” about the economy during the campaign. He has not denied making the statement.

The outpouring of rage may be linked to austerity measures Mr. Gyurcsany’s Socialist-led coalition has implemented in order to rein in a state budget deficit expected to surpass 10 percent of gross domestic product this year — the largest in the European Union.

The government has raised taxes and announced plans to lay off scores of state employees, introduce direct fees in the health sector and start charging tuition for most university students.

Until the scandal suddenly broke last weekend, the 45-year-old Mr. Gyurcsany had been the Socialist Party’s golden boy — a youthful, charismatic leader promising to lead his nation to the prosperity as a full EU member.

His coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats in April became the first Hungarian government to win re-election since the return to democracy in 1990.

“The parties behind the government have given [my program] full support … and we have to go ahead,” Mr. Gyurcsany told AP.



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