Wednesday, September 20, 2006

‘Un-Hungarian’ riots

Hungary’s ambassador is angry and embarrassed by the rioting and violence on the streets of his elegant and ancient capital, Budapest, that has damaged the country’s image.

Ambassador Andras Simonyi told Embassy Row yesterday that he also is disappointed that the protests have diverted attention from the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian revolt against communism that was crushed by Soviet tanks.

“Hungary’s image in the United States is the image of a country that is democratic and a country that has faced a lot of difficulties but has solved them peacefully so far and is a great ally of the United States,” he said.

The violence, which has left more than 200 injured and dozens of burned-out vehicles littering the streets, is “very un-Hungarian,” he said.

Mr. Simonyi blamed the riots on “radical-right ultranationalists” and “football hooligans,” a European term applied to rampaging soccer fans, who provoked peaceful protesters angered over Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany‘s admission that his Socialist Party lied about the deteriorating state of the economy to get re-elected earlier this year.

Since the election, the government has imposed severe measures, including cuts in social services and tax increases, to try to prevent a budget deficit from reaching a projected 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

Mr. Simonyi said governments of the left and right have failed to control spending for the past decade, adding, “finally this prime minister is determined to do something about it.”

The ambassador defended the peaceful demonstrators.

“I can understand that people are angry, and they are voicing their anger and frustration,” he said. “However, we have to face the reality. Harsh, tough reforms are needed to fix the economy and fix the welfare state.”

The ambassador acknowledged he is worried about the effect of the riots on foreign investment and tourism, but he got a vote of confidence from a Canadian investor who owns the building that houses the state-run television station, which was ransacked and suffered damage from small fires set by the protesters.

“He intends to renovate the building and stay in Hungary,” Mr. Simonyi said.

Warning from Korea

Conservative opposition members of the South Korean legislature are in Washington to warn that the transfer of U.S. command of joint forces in their country would lead to a “serious security vacuum” that could encourage aggression from communist North Korea.

Vice Speaker Lee Sang-deuk, Chung Moon-hun, Hwang Jin-ha and Park Jin — all members of the Grand National Party — told editors at The Washington Times that a new Gallup Poll shows 71 percent of South Koreans fear a transfer of command to South Korea would create instability on the peninsula and 80 percent worry it also would damage the economy.

Their visit follows a meeting in Washington last week between President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, when the two leaders agreed on the change in the Combined Forces Command. South Korea took over peacetime command of its troops in 1994, but the wartime command has been under U.S. officers since the end of the Korean conflict.

They warned in a position paper that a “hasty wartime control transfer can create a serious security vacuum on the peninsula [and] … send the wrong signal to North Korea, which is struggling to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.”

The lawmakers also feared a transfer of command would “undermine the South’s ability to counter a North Korean attack” because South Korean forces are not ready to assume the responsibility. They noted that current military modernization reforms are not scheduled to be completed until 2020.

They met yesterday with Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, and Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Royce, both California Republicans and members of the House International Relations Committee.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

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