IMAGE: Budapest protest
Bela Szandelszky  /  AP
Right-wing demonstrators storm the headquarters of Hungarian state television during an escalating protest against Hungary's socialist government in Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday. news services
updated 9/18/2006 8:14:58 PM ET 2006-09-19T00:14:58

Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of state television early Tuesday after setting fire to several cars — an increasing violent response to a leaked recording that caught Hungary’s prime minister admitting officials had lied about the economy.

Rescue services said at least 10 people were injured, including some police, and authorities fired tear gas and water cannons at rock-throwing protesters, who have been demanding the government resign.

The government called for an emergency session of the National Security Cabinet to be held Tuesday morning.

The violence came after a mainly peaceful protest outside parliament attended by several thousand people began late Sunday, when a recording made in May was leaked to local media on which Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted to repeatedly having lied to the country about the true state of the Hungarian economy to win April’s elections.

By Monday night, the crowd demanding Gyurcsany’s resignation outside parliament grew as it was joined by people getting off work and also coming to Budapest, the capital, from surrounding areas.

Late Monday, several hundred protesters broke away from the larger group outside parliament and marched over to the nearby headquarters of state television, wanting to be allowed to proclaim their demands on a live broadcast.

While most of the crowd watched from a safe distance, a few dozen protesters tried to break through police lines and into the TV headquarters, throwing large rocks through doors and windows. Police used water cannons and tear gas to try to drive them back.

Protestors shouted “56!” in memory of Hungary’s failed uprising against Soviet rule in October 1956. Some used flagstones to attack the television building.

Some 10,000 people gathered at parliament earlier to demand the Socialist premier’s resignation.

PM created 'moral crisis,' president says
While the Socialist Party rallied behind its prime minister, who faces his biggest challenge since taking office in 2004, Hungary’s president said Gyurcsany had created a “moral crisis,” and opposition parties said he should go.

The main opposition party Fidesz said it would boycott parliament for a day on Tuesday to protest against what it said were the lies of the Socialist-led government.

“We will not go, it is decided. How do we know they will tell the truth?” parliamentary faction leader Tibor Navraciscs said.

The first poll on the issue found Hungarians divided.

Forty seven percent said the prime minister should stay and 43 percent thought he should resign, Szonda Ipsos’s snap poll of 500 people on Monday found.

“We are here because we would very much like a change of government through new elections,” said protestor Ibolya, 44, who declined to give her surname.

Gyurcsany received a unanimous endorsement on Monday from Socialist MPs as prime minister and for his policies to cut Hungary’s budget deficit, which at 10.1 percent of gross domestic product is the biggest in the European Union.

The opposition charges that Gyurcsany, who became the first prime minister since communism ended in 1989 to retain power in an election, campaigned on promises of tax cuts, only to impose $4.6 billion of tax increases and benefit cuts after he won power.

The tape, leaked on Sunday, recorded Gyurcsany appealing to his party after the election to change its ways, saying: “We lied in the morning and in the evening” and that the government had achieved nothing in office apart from winning the election.

PM focus of opposition party
Gyurcsany was criticized by Fidesz and by President Laszlo Solyom, an independent political figure.

“No goal can justify that anybody risk faith in democracy and even less that he does it consciously,” Solyom said on Monday, adding, “I expect the prime minister to admit that”.

Political analysts and constitutional experts say that Solyom has no power to dismiss the government and Gyurcsany’s Socialists were resolute in their support after meeting the prime minister following his return from a trip to Russia.

“With a unanimous vote the party caucus decided to support the continuation of our policies and the prime minister who has been carrying out these policies,” Socialist Party caucus leader Ildiko Lendvai said.

Party President Istvan Hiller said earlier that there was complete backing for Gyurcsany and that his policies to cut the budget deficit, which include unpopular tax increases and charges for health care and university tuition, would be carried out.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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