BUDAPEST, Hungary – A square in front of parliament overflowed Saturday with demonstrators demanding the prime minister quit, in the largest protest yet since a recording was leaked on which he admitted lying to the people.
About 20,000 people filled Kossuth Square by mid-evening Saturday — double the size of the crowds seen earlier in the week.
A larger turnout had been expected. The protest was also joined by those who had planned to join for a political rally by Fidesz, the main opposition party, before it was postponed due to security concerns.
The crowd diminished to about 10,000 by 11 p.m. Still, the turnout of 20,000 reflected continued support for those demanding Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resign for acknowledging his government lied about the dire economic state of the economy.
One of the key speakers, Laszlo Toekes, the ethnic Hungarian Protestant bishop whose protest sparked the 1989 anti-communist Romanian revolution, suggested Gyurcsany was a greater criminal that violent demonstrators who rioted early Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Who is really guilty?" asked Toekes, whose following is mostly among rightist nationalists. "He who sets a car on fire, or he who destroys a whole nation?"
A masked man, who introduced himself as Gyoergy Budahazi, sought by police for damaging a monument commemorating the Soviet liberation of Budapest from the Nazis, received prolonged applause before disappearing into the crowd.
Protesters vowed to continue demonstrating even after nationwide municipal elections on Oct. 1.
"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 on Sunday, without providing more details.
By sunset Saturday, the square was a sea of waving national — and nationalist — flags. An English-language sign perched on a police barrier proclaimed: "If you want to be president, come to Hungary and lie."
Hundreds of police, most in riot gear with helmets and shields at the ready, were in the square and stationed nearby.
Pal Matos, 62, said he and his wife were on the square because "we are embittered that such a man is leading the country.
"We'll do anything we can to make him resign."
The first protests began Sunday, drawing thousands. Separately, police battled hundreds of radicals trying to storm strategic or symbolic buildings, including the Socialist headquarters. Violence has left hundreds injured, and considerable material damage.
Many are outraged at Gyurcsany's admission that his government had "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.
Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said Saturday that municipal workers were removing garbage cans, debris from construction sites and any other moveable materials from the downtown area that they feared rioters could use against police.
Demszky estimated that the riots early Tuesday and Wednesday riots had caused nearly 60 million forints, or about $275,000, in damage so far.
More than 150 people have been taken into custody since the riots erupted early Tuesday.