Violence erupts as Hungarians remember 1956

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The Independent Online

Hungary's simmering political crisis boiled over on the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule, as police fired rubber bullets to disperse anti-government protesters.

Police intervened with tear-gas and water cannons yesterday as hundreds of marchers headed for a central square after the main commemorative events, attended by European dignitaries, had ended. Several people were reported to be injured. One group of protesters seized a Second World War-era tank which had been on display and drove it towards the police lines. The unrest prompted the authorities to take foreign guests back to the airport earlier than scheduled.

The main centre-right opposition party, Fidesz, has orchestrated a month of often violent protests in Budapest after the socialist Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, admitted in a leaked speech last month that his government had consistently lied to the public to win an election last April. "We lied in the morning, we lied in the evening", he told a party meeting.

Hundreds of people have been injured since then in pitched battles which have been described as the most serious since the anti-Soviet rebellion of 1956. Some 2,600 Hungarians died in the uprising against Soviet rule. More than 200 were executed for their role in the rebellion and 200,000 fled the country.

Yesterday evening, the air was again thick with tear- gas after police intervened to prevent masked demonstrators reaching parliament. Earlier in the day, Hungarian and foreign dignitaries, including King Juan Carlos of Spain, laid flowers at the black marble monument to the 1956 uprising in a moving ceremony in the main square.

A remembrance ceremony was held at the grave of Imre Nagy, where the former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, representing Britain, laid a wreath in memory of the reformist prime minister. He was scrubbed from the history books after being hanged following a show trial in 1958, but his reputation was restored by Hungary in 1989.

Fidesz, meanwhile, held its own 1956 commemoration, attended by tens of thousands of people. Such is the political division of Hungarian society that the left and right have not celebrated the anniversary of the uprising together for several years, as bitter memories were rekindled.

Some commentators have suggested that the current crisis stems from Hungary's failure to purge ex-Communists from public life, as other former Soviet states have done since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Mr Gyurcsany's own role in the 50th anniversary commemorations has been questioned by the right. He is a former Communist youth leader whose socialists are heir to the Communists who ruled the country for 33 years after Soviet troops put down the 1956 uprising. Some veterans of the 1956 uprising refuse to shake hands with him.