Hungarian PM gets tough with rioters as protests continue

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Thousands of people protested on the streets of Budapest yesterday for the third successive night, but the Hungarian Prime Minister remained defiant, promising a crackdown on violent demonstrations and insisting he will stay in office despite lying to voters.

Demonstrators in Kossuth Square, in front of the parliament building, waved flags and chanted for Ferenc Gyurcsany to resign as riot police kept watch. Demonstrators displayed a wooden coffin with a picture of Mr Gyurcsany in front of the building. The crowd was estimated at 15,000.

On Tuesday night, police fired water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators who set police cars on fire and hurled stones and rubble at security forces in what has been Hungary's biggest political upheaval since 1989. About 140 police officers have been injured and 137 people have been arrested.

In the weeks approaching the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against Communism, the fighting has provoked political turmoil.

The crisis began on Sunday with the leak of a recording in which the Prime Minister told colleagues they "lied morning, noon and night" about the economy to win the election. "We did nothing for four years. Nothing," he said. The speech was designed to rally colleagues around a programme aimed at getting a ballooning budget deficit under control.

Far from apologising, Mr Gyurcsany went on the offensive. "We'll have no patience for them," he said of the rioters.

In the short term, he may have benefited from the violence, which has appalled many Hungarians, and he has enough support to survive a no-confidence motion in parliament. But an opposition rally called for Sunday is expected to attract hundreds of thousands. Local elections on 1 October will be another test and the anniversary of the 1956 uprising on 23 October gives opponents a final opportunity to apply pressure

Yesterday the centre-right opposition leader Viktor Orban called on Mr Gyurcsany to quit, describing him as a "sick, lying dilettant". He argued that the government's lack of credibility made its proposed reforms unacceptable.

The depth of public anger suggests a loss of faith in the entire political system with commentators arguing that the opposition lacks credibility too. Mr Orban, who was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002, seemed to accept that by suggesting an "expert government" of economists and other non-politicians should be given a temporary mandate by parliament to tackle the crisis.