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Hungarian suspicions linger as Horn is backed

GYULA HORN, the reformed Communist who as Hungary's foreign minister in 1989 was instrumental in the decision to dismantle the Iron Curtain, now appears certain to be the next prime minister.

An extraordinary congress of Mr Horn's Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) over the weekend backed his nomination by 96 per cent. At the same time, spokesmen for the party, which won a landslide victory in elections last month, formally announced they wanted to form a coalition with the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (AFD). The AFD, which won the second highest number of seats, for its part said yesterday that it was prepared to negotiate.

The nomination of Mr Horn, currently wearing a brace around his head following a car crash last month, was widely expected. But it was not without controversy. For while he likes to play up his part in allowing East Germans to cross Hungary's borders to the West in 1989, political opponents point to an altogether darker side of his past: his service in one of the Communist militias that put down the 1956 uprising.

During the election campaign, most of the attacks against Mr Horn came from the previously ruling conservative Hungarian Democratic Union (HDF). But many AFD members also had reservations about the sincerity of Mr Horn's conversion to democratic socialism in the late 1980s and expressed outright opposition to him becoming prime minister.

The scale of the HSP election victory - out of 386 parliamentary seats it now has 209 compared with the AFD's 70 and the HDF's 37 - effectively forced the Free Democrats to revise their position. With the Socialists easily able to govern on their own, the AFD realised that if it seriously wanted a share of power, it would not be able to dictate who would be prime minister.

The HSP's coalition offer to the AFD stems largely from its desire to secure a broader base of support for what are expected to be tough economic decisions. It plans to stick to austere fiscal policies. The HSP is also anxious to avoid a return to one-party government.