Hungarian protesters seize tank

DEMONSTRATORS drove a Second World War tank at police firing rubber bullets and tear gas yesterday during an anti- government protest in Budapest on the 50th anniversary of Hungary's uprising against Soviet rule.

As police pushed the crowd of about 1,000 away from the square outside the parliament building, protesters seized the T-34 tank used as an exhibit to commemorate the Hungarian uprising and drove it towards police lines. "The whole crowd started cheering. The police started firing tear gas, then the tank stopped," said Fedja Grulovic, a cameraman.

Protesters could be seen carrying placards with 7ft-letters spelling out the word "freedom" in Hungarian.

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The anniversary of the anti-Soviet uprising has been marred by a month of protests, following the admission by the Socialist prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, in a leaked speech, that he lied about the state of the economy to win national elections in April.

Protesters seeking to march on parliament square clashed with police after fighting earlier in the day led to ten people being arrested.

"They are shooting rubber bullets at the protesters now," an eyewitness said. By the afternoon, police had pushed back the protesters to Budapest's central Deak Square and continued to fire tear gas, a witness said.

Some protesters, their faces hidden behind scarves, lobbed stones at the police, a witness said. But officers managed to force the protesters towards a major commemorative rally being held by the main right-of-centre Fidesz opposition party, which wants Mr Gyurcsany to quit.

Viktor Orban, the leader of Fidesz, urged protesters to refrain from violence, but told the rally of tens of thousands of people that the nation was facing an "illegitimate" government.

Even before Mr Gyurcsany's leaked speech, many on the right questioned whether celebrations should be led by the socialists, heirs of the communists whose rule was cemented for 33 more years after Soviet troops put down the uprising.

Official commemorations yesterday began with a ceremonial raising of the national flag, followed by Hungarian and foreign dignitaries laying flowers at the foot of a 1956 monument on Kossuth Square.

Later, the officials attended a special session in the legislature's Upper House Chamber, where Mr Gyurcsany and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke.

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Inside parliament, the prime minister said Hungarians in 1956 had no choice but to rebel, but the country, which held its first free elections in 1990 and joined the European Union in 2004, was now a modern, democratic state.

"Despite the often justified disappointment and discontent, the majority of Hungarians believe that parliamentary democracy is the most suited to express people's will and to create law and give a programme to a free Hungary," he said.

In Geneva, the United Nation's refugee agency said the anniversary, which forced 200,000 people to flee the country, should serve as a reminder of the world's need to generously aid victims of political persecution.

History written in blood

THE 1956 student protests began on the afternoon of 23 October, and by nightfall had turned into the armed uprising. About 2,800 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the Red Army attack, which was launched on 4 November, 1956.

After the military defeat, strikes and protests continued for several weeks until a Soviet crackdown definitively ended the uprising in January 1957.