Hungarian PM stands firm ahead of new protests

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BUDAPEST, Sep 15 (Reuters) Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany promised his Socialist party today he would press on with economic reforms, defying anti-government protesters who are due to gather later in the day.

''We need to widen reforms instead of taking them back,'' Gyurcsany told hundreds of cheering party delegates at a meeting in Budapest.

''We will have the strength to fight for order and freedom, we won't appear weak and cowardly.'' Anti-government groups are due to rally in Budapest on the first anniversary of the leaking of a tape in which Gyurcsany said he had lied ''morning, noon and night'' about the country's huge budget deficit to win the 2006 general election.

That admission led to Hungary's worst riots since the end of communism in September and October of last year in which hundreds of people were injured.

Gyurcsany, who has seen poll ratings rise recently to 25 per cent from a low of 14 per cent, told Reuters yesterday that he had the backing of his party for more economic reforms after he took action in 2006 to slash Hungary's huge budget deficit.

While Gyurcsany has won the faith of investors by putting Hungary back on the path to joining the euro after years of economic mismanagement, he has polarised the country.

Groups angered by the measures, which included price hikes for energy and fees for doctor visits and tuition, plan to hold a series of anti-government demonstrations in coming days.

Analysts do not expect a repeat of the turmoil seen in the streets in the capital a year ago. But police -- accused last year of excessive violence against protesters -- said they were prepared to handle possible riots.

An opinion poll this week showed that the main opposition party Fidesz was the most popular party, with 39 per cent. But its lead over the Socialists had narrowed to 14 percentage points from 17 in August.

REUTERS GT HS1608

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