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Hungary Commemorates 1956 Revolution Amid Political Tensions

The president of Hungary has appealed for unity among Hungarians as anti-government protests threaten to overshadow the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution against Soviet rule.

Many elderly Hungarians still remember the shots that reverberated through the streets - and were heard on the airwaves - as fighting broke out near the radio station in central Budapest. Freedom fighters tried to keep control of the station by holding off the much better armed Communist forces.

The radio station was a crucial information tool during the 1956 Revolution against Soviet rule and Hungary's Moscow-backed government. But the struggle for freedom that began October 23, 1956 was crushed less than two weeks later by Soviet forces.

About 2,800 Hungarians died in the fighting and 200,000 others fled to the West.

Now 50 years later, Hungary is free, the Soviet Union is an ever-fading memory, and yet tensions are again high in the country, this time sparked by the anniversary celebrations.

On Sunday, during an awards ceremony in the parliament building, several former freedom fighters refused to shake hands with Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Mr. Gyurcsany was born five years after the revolution, but he was a leader of Hungary's Communist youth movement in the 1980's, and recently admitted he lied to voters about the economy to win re-election. Outside the parliament building people shouted for his resignation.

The ceremonies to mark the anniversary began Sunday with a concert at the Hungarian State Opera. Just before the performance began, one of the foreign leaders who are in Budapest to mark the anniversary, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, urged Hungarians to overcome their divisions and to celebrate the lasting importance of the revolution 50 years ago.

"One thing is clear, the freedom fight of 1956 was not in vain as it showed the courage of the Hungarian people," said Heinz Fischer. He added that the Soviet military was in fact the moral loser. What was bloodily crushed in 1956, Mr. Fischer said, was achieved peacefully in 1989.

Ceremonies Monday to mark the anniversary include the unveiling of a new monument in Budapest's Heroes' Square to honor those who died in the uprising 50 years ago.