Hungary's Opposition Party Cancels Rally Amid Fears of Violence
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary's main opposition party on Thursday postponed a weekend political rally amid fears of further street violence, saying state security officials had warned that the gathering could be hit by bomb attacks.
Laszlo Koever, an official of the opposition Fidesz party, said the rally planned for Saturday would not be held because of the security concerns sparked by the political crisis over public demands for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany to resign.
Koever said his party had received "concrete information about planned bomb attacks" and other "provocations" from government and state security officials.
He did not elaborate. But fears of a bomb attack reflected the high level of political tensions that have gripped the country since Sunday, when a recording was leaked on which Gyurcsany admitted lying about the poor state of Hungary's economy.
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The tape sparked violence unrivaled since the anti-Soviet revolution 50 years ago, with police battling thousands of radicals trying to storm strategic or symbolic buildings for two days running in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday and Wednesday.
Clashes resumed early Thursday, with police firing tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who taunted police for several hours early Thursday.
Fifteen protesters were injured, including two seriously hurt by tear gas canisters, authorities said.
Still, the latest night of unrest was far less violent than the riots and looting that left hundreds hurt and caused damage valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Koever said the rally would be held after Oct. 1 municipal elections.
"Over the last days, police have been unable to ... keep order," he told reporters, suggesting that security would not have been adequate at Saturday's rally. Past Fidesz gatherings have attracted hundreds of thousands of people.
The protests reflected outrage over Gyurcsany's admission that he had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy. The tape 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.
Gyurcsany praised the Fidesz decision to postpone its rally as "the only correct solution" but stood his ground, insisting that his government intended to press ahead with economic reforms. He called Thursday for talks with parliamentary leaders in what would be his first face-to-face meeting with the opposition since the rioting began.
But the overture was unlikely to defuse tensions: Only the Hungarian Democratic Forum, with 11 parliamentary deputies, accepted. Fidesz and a small ally, — together the main center-right opposition which accounts for 163 of the 386 seats in the legislature, said they would not attend.
"It makes no sense to hold talks with the government," said Fidesz spokesman Peter Szijjarto. "Ferenc Gyurcsany is not the solution but the problem."
Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, who served as prime minister between 1998-2002, has been among Gyurcsany's harshest critics and at the forefront of demands that Gyurcsany and his Cabinet resign.
Orban has proposed setting up a temporary "government of experts," including economists and other professionals, to put the country's economy back in order.
Nearly 200 people have been taken into custody since the riots began early Tuesday, including 62 people detained on Thursday, police spokeswoman Eva Tafferner said. She said some were released after questioning but most were charged with rioting, collective ruffianism and acts of violence against police.
Hungarian media also reported smaller demonstrations in a half-dozen other cities and towns late Wednesday.
The justice minister had said earlier that a curfew for the capital was being considered but the government Thursday denied any plans to do so.
"There has been no contemplation or decision about a curfew," government spokeswoman Emese Danks said.
The violence has shaken Hungary, held up as a model of progress following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.
The public was stunned by Gyurcsany's blunt admissions of government ineptitude during his first term and the cynicism contained in a 25-minute tape that was widely broadcast and published by news media.
"We did nothing for four years. Nothing," Gyurcsany says on the tape, made during a private talk with Socialist parliament members peppered with crude expressions. "We screwed up. Not a little, a lot.
"No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have," he says."... Plainly, we lied throughout the last year and a half, two years."