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Hungary Protests Rage On

Hundreds of police fired water cannons and tear gas at demonstrators seeking to force Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany from office in a second day of protests, but he stood his ground Wednesday and said his government intended to carry out his reforms.

Protesters set police cars on fire and hurled plaster from nearby buildings at officers following the prime minister's leaked admission that his government repeatedly lied to the public about the economy.

A total of 140 officers were injured over two days, including 38 on Wednesday, and 137 people have been detained, said Arpad Szabadfi, deputy chief of national police. Dozens of demonstrator also were hurt, officials said.

The most violent clashes involved splinter groups that had broken off from a larger demonstration of about 10,000 people, MTI said.

Some 1,000 police officers were mobilized to quell the protests before the clashes broke up a few hours before daybreak, the state news agency MTI said. By afternoon, about 300 protesters had gathered at Kossuth Square — the venue of the previous large protests — but Budapest was quiet.

Szabadfi said most of the 137 detained since the first violent protests Tuesday were "young men and they had links to soccer hooliganism."

Protesters accused the governing coalition of lying to win the April elections. People also were upset over tax increases and other austerity measures that Gyurcsany has ordered over the last three months.

"I hope we can accomplish our goal," said Tamas Szep, 48, a paint supplies wholesaler. "Not only the prime minister, but all of his sidekicks have to go."

Wednesday's confrontation erupted after the demonstrators threatened to move in on the party building and ignored police orders shouted through bullhorns to disperse, witnesses said.

Police succeeded in scattering the protesters, then scuffled with small groups along side streets. Wailing sirens signaled the approach of police reinforcements, who blocked media access to the area. An ambulance crew was seen attending to an injured officer while other police hustled away individual demonstrators.

The protesters then regrouped, blocking a main thoroughfare with garbage containers and park benches. As the confrontation neared its third hour, police split the demonstrators into three groups and deployed water cannons to push them into different directions in a new attempt to disperse them.

The confrontation demonstrated the continued high potential for violence from radical opponents of Gyurcsany, whose taped comments set off the country's worst violence since its failed anti-Soviet revolution 50 years ago.

Gyurcsany — whose taped comments admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy provoked the fury — said he intended to weather the storm.

"I'm staying and I'm doing my job. I'm extremely committed to fulfilling my program, fiscal adjustments and reforms," he told The Associated Press. "I know it's very difficult for the people, but it's the only direction for Hungary."

Police were caught off-guard the previous night by the fury of a few thousand people who broke away from the main demonstration and stormed the state TV building. Pushing past officers with protective helmets, clubs and shields, about 400 got inside, breaking glass and causing other damage.

The violence shook a country that for much of its last two decades had been held up as a model of progress following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. Gyurcsany called it Hungary's "longest and darkest night" since the end of communist rule in 1989.

The public was stunned by the blunt admissions of government ineptitude during its first term and the cynicism contained in a 25-minute tape that was widely aired and published by news media over the weekend.

"We did nothing for four years. Nothing," Gyurcsany said on the tape, made during a private talk with Socialist parliament members. Later he said: "We screwed up. Not a little, a lot.

"No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have. ... Plainly, we lied throughout the last year and a half, two years," the prime minister said.

The outpouring of rage was fueled by austerity measures implemented by Gyurcsany's Socialist-led coalition seeking to rein in a government budget deficit expected to surpass 10 percent of Hungary's gross domestic product this year — the largest in the European Union.

The government has raised taxes and announced plans to lay off dozens of employees and to introduce direct fees in the health sector and tuition for most university students.

Until the scandal broke Sunday, the 45-year-old Gyurcsany had been the Socialist Party's golden boy — a youthful, charismatic leader promising to lead his nation to prosperity as a full EU member.

Along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he counts among his friends Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Bush, whom he presented with a handmade pair of riding boots during the U.S. leader's visit in June.

In the April ballot, his coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats became the first Hungarian government to win consecutive elections since the return to democracy in 1990.

The origin of the leaked tape remained murky.

When confronted with initial excerpts of the 25-minute recording that state radio put up on its Web site Sunday afternoon, Gyurcsany not only confirmed the tape's authenticity but seemed relieved his comments had been made public.

That led some people to speculate the tape might have been released by Gyurcsany's own office, arguing he might hope a scandal could work in his favor by revealing the full extent of Hungary's economic malaise and casting him in the role of its savior.

The prime minister denied any involvement with the tape becoming public.

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