Hungarian PM stands firm as new protests start

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BUDAPEST, Sep 15 (Reuters) Hungarians opposed to the government rallied today to demand Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany quit after he said he would press ahead with economic reforms.

But the protests were small and ended peacefully in contrast to last year when hundreds of people were injured in weeks of demonstrations, the country's worst riots since the end of communism.

Protesters who occupied the square outside parliament in September and October last year gathered again in another location in the centre of Budapest and a group close to the main opposition Fidesz party rallied outside the president's palace.

Hungarian news agency MTI said 600 people were at the first rally where Lorant Hegedus, a Protestant pastor, called the prime minister ''a sociopathic animal''.

There were around 5,000 people at the second.

''I ask the parliamentary majority not to support this shame (Gyurcsany) any longer,'' said Krisztina Morvai, a lawyer who wrote a report about last year's protests The anti-government groups are rallying 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 - sparking weeks of violence last year.

MORE RALLIES PLANNED Many rallies are planned over the coming days and Karoly Faber, a leader of the parliament protests last year, said ''the government will be overthrown via passive resistance''.

However, Gyurcsany shows no signs he will be pushed out and has been backed solidly by his Socialist Party, telling hundreds of cheering supporters on Saturday that he would ''widen reforms instead of taking them back''.

''We will have the strength to fight for order and freedom, we won't appear weak and cowardly,'' he said.

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 the coming days.

The 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 per centage points from 17 in August.

Reuters SZ VP0146

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