Hungary Erupts with Protests over Economy

Mounted police charged bottle-hurling protesters outside Socialist party headquarters in Hungary's capital early Wednesday. It is the second day of violence, touched off by the prime minister's leaked admission that his government had repeatedly lied to the public about the economy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

People are demanding change - some people anyway - demanding a change in government in Hungary. More violent protests struck the capital Budapest because the protesters want the prime minister to resign.

The trouble began late Monday when hundreds of demonstrators stormed and vandalized the state television building. That followed the leak of a tape in which the prime minister admitted lying to the public for years about the state of Hungary's economy.

NPR's Emily Harris reports from Budapest.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

EMILY HARRIS: Protestors smashed shop windows and threw bottles and stones near the Socialist Party headquarters in Budapest. Police on horseback kept them from getting close to the party building. Hungary's state news agency says about 50 people were hurt in the confrontation and about the same number arrested.

The violence started after a small group of people split off from a much larger and peaceful demonstration outside the parliament building.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: There, thousands of people gathered after work as darkness fell. Protestors carried Hungary's national flag and the red and white striped banner that's often used by nationalistic groups. They were kept back from the parliament building by metal barricades with dozens of police lined up on the other side wearing full riot gear but with facemasks up and shields resting on the ground.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: By midnight, the crowd had thinned to a couple of thousand who sang the national anthem enthusiastically. Nineteen-year-old Rita Vasdon(ph) was still there, holding a Hungarian flag. She came for a simple reason.

Ms. RITA VASDON (Hungarian Protestor): Because we want to get the government change and because we know that prime minister lied...

HARRIS: A tape of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany telling his party colleagues that he and they had done nothing for four years and lied about it to win reelection was made public Sunday.

The central issue is economic reforms. Hungary has an enormous budget deficit. Before the April election, the government promised tax cuts. But afterwards it imposed a severe austerity program of budget cuts and tax hikes.

Outside parliament last night, insurance agent Adam Sabo(ph) said the measures may be important in the long run, but still the prime minister should go.

Mr. ADAM SABO (Insurance Agent, Hungary): (Through translator) Yes, they are necessary but we do not accept that this man wants to carry out the economic reforms. I don't care about economic reforms. I want this man to step down and to resign.

HARRIS: He says he didn't vote for this prime minister anyway and he wants the opposition to take charge. Hungary's prime minister has so far said he has no intention of stepping down. Analyst Christian Schoborauch(ph) says initial reports of the tape made the prime minister look vulnerable, but he says the violence, especially Monday night at the state television station, changed the tenor of this scandal.

Mr. CHRISTIAN SCHOBORAUCH (Political Analyst): When I first heard the two sentences from the tape, I said to myself the prime minister must resign. But it was only on until Monday morning, when the people were upset, because Monday night's events changed everything completely.

HARRIS: Opposition supporters, including analyst Thomash Fritz(ph), say the violence is terrible but not the real problem.

Mr. THOMASH FRITZ (Political Analyst): (Through translator) I think the violence that took place just on outside the MTV two days ago, that's absolutely unacceptable. But the reason and the thing that brought about that violence is the tape and the solution will be that he should resign.

HARRIS: Those who want the prime minister to go say even if protests don't force him out, internal divisions in his party might. Local elections in ten days time are anticipated as a referendum on the prime minister and his lies.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Budapest.

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