Hungary Protest Crowd Begins to Diminish

The Associated Press
Sunday, September 24, 2006; 5:29 PM

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Thousands of protesters gathered in a downtown square Sunday to demand the prime minister quit for lying about the dire state of the economy. But in a sign that passions might be ebbing after a week of demonstrations, the crowd was significantly smaller than before.

Despite the additional attraction of a pop concert by local stars, no more than 2,500 people remained by late evening at Kossuth Square in front of the parliament building, which has been the main protest site. With the weather balmy, 20,000 people flocked to the square on Saturday _ the biggest demonstration to date against Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Gyurcsany remained defiant. In an interview published Sunday, he said he still planned to seek his party's chairmanship next year and that the results of next Sunday's municipal elections would not affect his plans.

"Neither the government's actions nor what happens in the party depend on the final outcome (of the elections)," Gyurcsany was quoted as telling the Vasarnap Reggel newspaper. "I'm going to fight for these policies and part of it is the modernization of the Socialist Party."

Separately, he linked the center-right opposition to rioting last week that injured hundreds and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

"This is not only the tragedy of the Hungarian right but also of Hungarian democracy," he told reporters.

Despite their dwindling numbers at Kossuth Square, protesters vowed to continue demonstrating even after the municipal elections.

"Our protest will not cease until the Cabinet resigns," said Tamas Molnar, one of the organizers. "We want to bring down the current post-communist government."

Molnar also said protesters were planning to launch a "peaceful, friendly and creative" civic resistance campaign, but did not provide more details.

The first protests began last Sunday, drawing thousands. For two days, police battled hundreds of radicals trying to storm strategic or symbolic buildings, including the Socialist Party headquarters.

Many are outraged at Gyurcsany's admission that his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy. A tape of the comments was made at a closed-door meeting in late May, weeks after Gyurcsany's government became the first in post-communist Hungary to win re-election.

More than 150 people have been taken into custody since the riots erupted early Tuesday.


Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi, Palma Benczenleitner and Karel Janicek contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press