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PM's warning to Hungary rioters

BBC | September 19 2006

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has warned he will crack down on any repeat of Monday night's violent protests in Budapest.

Mr Gyurcsany said the protests, in which dozens of people were hurt, were Hungary's "longest and darkest night" since the end of communism in 1989.

The violence erupted at the state TV building following a largely peaceful rally calling on Mr Gyurcsany to quit.

In a leaked tape, Mr Gyurcsany admitted his government had lied to the public.

His comments, which were recorded just after a general election in April, have prompted calls for his resignation from opposition parties.

But his own Socialist party, and the junior party in the ruling coalition, have stood behind the prime minister.

Protesters storm station

Mr Gyurcsany has thus far withstood pressure to leave office, and on Tuesday warned he would deal firmly with any further violent protests.

He said he had told police "to use all means to restore order", according to the national news agency MTI.

But reporters say a small crowd of protesters has been growing at Kossuth Square, where parliament is located, to demand Mr Gyurcsany's resignation.

The trouble on Monday night began when a group of protesters left the large, mostly peaceful demonstration outside parliament and went to TV headquarters.

According to reports, they requested that a petition be read out on air, and when refused attacked the building.

Riot police sent to contain the protest came under assault from protesters throwing cobblestones and bottles and setting cars alight. Inside the building, the protesters briefly forced state television off the air.

The police were forced to withdraw from the scene for several hours before returning to expel the protesters.

Officials said 150 people had been injured - 102 of them police officers, with one suffering serious head injuries.

Overnight Justice Minister Jozsef Petretei, who oversees the police force, offered to resign over the violence, but his offer was rejected by Mr Gyurcsany.

"Nothing like this has happened since 1956," one young protester told Reuters news agency, referring to Hungary's failed uprising against Soviet rule in October 1956.

Hungarian TV reports that the national security cabinet met on Tuesday morning, and requested a briefing on the situation from the police.

'We lied'

Mr Gyurcsany's comments which sparked the protests were heard in a tape of a meeting he held with his MPs a few weeks after April's election, and leaked to media on Sunday.

In excerpts broadcast on state radio, Mr Gyurcsany candidly admitted his government had accomplished "nothing" and had been lying for "the last year and a half to two years".

"We lied in the morning, we lied in the evening," he said in a speech punctuated by obscenities.

Protests had already been planned this week over tough austerity measures imposed since the election.

The leaked revelations were, for some of the protesters, the straw which broke the camel's back, the BBC's Nick Thorpe reports.

Local elections are scheduled in two weeks' time and the Socialists and their liberal coalition allies are trailing the conservative opposition party Fidesz in the polls.

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