Hungarian Protesters Continue Pressure, But Prime Minister Refuses to Leave

Organizers seeking to maintain the momentum of their anti-government protests scheduled pop stars to appear Sunday at a square where thousands gathered the previous night calling for the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.

More than 3,000 people had gathered by midafternoon. Organizers said they expected another big crowd to demand that Gyurcsany leave office over his admission the government lied about the dire economic state of the economy.

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At least 20,000 people flocked to the square in front of Hungary's parliament Saturday night, the biggest gathering since protests began a week ago.

Gyurcsany remained defiant. In an interview published Sunday he said that he still planned to seek his party's chairmanship next year and that the results of next Sunday's municipal elections would not affect his plans.

"Neither the government's actions nor what happens in the party depend on the final outcome" of the municipal elections, Gyurcsany told the newspaper Vasarnap Reggel. "I'm going to fight for these policies and part of it is the modernization of the Socialist Party."

Separately, he linked the center-right opposition to rioting earlier this week that left hundreds of people injured and caused damages costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"This is not only the tragedy of the Hungarian right but also of Hungarian democracy," Gyurcsany told reporters.

Unlike previous protests, no violent incidents were reported Saturday night. Police said they detained six people for minor infractions during the rally.

In other parts of the country, one Socialist Party office was vandalized and another set on fire, but there were no reports of injuries.

Protesters vowed to continue demonstrating even after the municipal elections.

"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 they were planning to launch a "peaceful, friendly and creative" civic resistance campaign, without providing more details.

Saturday night's big turnout had been expected. The protest included people who had planned to join a separate political rally by Fidesz, the main opposition party, before it was postponed due to security concerns.

One speaker Saturday, Laszlo Toekes, the ethnic Hungarian Protestant bishop whose protest when he was a young priest in Romania sparked the 1989 anti-communist revolution in that nation, suggested Gyurcsany was a greater criminal than the demonstrators who rioted early Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Who is really guilty? He who sets a car on fire, or he who destroys a whole nation?" asked Toekes, whose following is mostly among right-wing nationalists.

A masked man introduced himself as Gyoergy Budahazi, who is being sought by police for damage to a monument commemorating the Soviet liberation of Budapest from the Nazis. He received prolonged applause before disappearing into the crowd.

The first protests began last Sunday. Since then, police have battled radicals trying to storm important or symbolic buildings, including the Socialist Party headquarters.

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

More than 150 people have been taken into custody since the riots erupted early Tuesday.