BUDAPEST, Hungary – Police dispersed the last of thousands of demonstrators who clashed with officers in Hungary's capital during commemorations on the anniversary of the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule.
Police using snow plows broke through makeshift barricades set up by rioters at both ends of the Elizabeth Bridge over the Danube River, which divides the capital's Buda and Pest sections. Several hundred officers quickly dispersed the last 300 or so rioters left in the area shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Nearly 130 people were treated for injuries, including 88 who were taken to hospitals, emergency officials said. Between 30 and 40 people were arrested.
Monday's anti-government riots were the latest outburst of violence over Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's admission that he lied about the economy to win April's election. The clashes coincided with events to mark the 50th anniversary of the anti-Soviet revolution.
At one point protesters hijacked a Soviet-era tank that was part of an exhibit on the uprising and drove it toward police until officers rushed the vehicle and pulled out its driver.
The trouble began early Monday when police expelled protesters from Kossuth Square, outside parliament.
Crowds have been staging demonstrations there since Sept. 17, when the Socialist prime minister was heard admitting on a leaked recording that the government had lied about the economy before winning re-election in April.
By the afternoon, police were firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of protesters, most of them peacefully demanding to be allowed back into Kossuth Square to commemorate the 1956 revolution.
Damage caused by the riots, which moved to several points within the center of the city's Pest district, was estimated at $950,000, the Budapest mayor's office said.
Fewer than 10 police officers were among the injured, Budapest police chief Peter Gergenyi said on state television.
Gergenyi said police had acted according to the law and did not use excessive force in confronting the rioters.
"Instead of looking for mistakes, police can expect to be thanked by the honest citizens," Gergenyi said after he was questioned about police methods used to disperse the rioters.
In one of the main showdowns on Monday near Deak Square, the city's main subway hub, hundreds of police behind three water cannons slowly advanced on the protesters. A few hundred rioters threw bottles and rocks at the police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets back at them. A police helicopter circled low above the crowd.
At the same time, Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union, the main center-right opposition group, was holding its own 1956 commemoration just a few blocks away. According to state news wire MTI, more than 100,000 people were at the rally.
Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, a former prime minister, said his party would propose holding a binding referendum on the package of reforms introduced by the government to lower what is the largest state budget deficit in the European Union.
"People should be given the opportunity to vote on what is being done against their will," Orban told a large crowd.
The 1956 student protests began on the afternoon of Oct. 23, and by nightfall had turned into an armed uprising. Around 2,800 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the Red Army attack launched on Nov. 4, 1956.
After the military defeat, strikes and protests continued for several weeks until a Soviet crackdown definitively ended the uprising in January 1957.
Some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country and at least 225 Hungarians accused of participating in the revolution were executed — including Imre Nagy, the communist-turned-democrat who was briefly retuned to power in 1956.
The communists ruled Hungary until 1989 and many questioned the right of Gyurcsany's Socialists — heirs of the communist party — to lead the official commemorations.