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Hungary Honors President Reagan With Statue

Hungarian military guards of honor stand behind the new statue of late US President Ronald Reagan during a centennial commemoration in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, June 29, 2011.

A statue of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan has been unveiled Wednesday in Hungary's capital Budapest where he was honored for helping to end communism and creating a new world for Central and Eastern Europe. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended the ceremony.

Watched by an enthusiastic crowd, a Hungarian military band played at the unveiling of a statue honoring former President Ronald Reagan for his efforts to free the people of Hungary and other East European state from the Soviet Union's domination and Communist dictatorship.

The bronze, 2-meter tall, likeness of America's 40th president was placed at Budapest's Freedom Square.

It is located near both the U.S. Embassy and a World War Two memorial to Soviet soldiers killed during the ouster of the Nazis from Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped unveil the statue.

Mr. Orban praised President Reagan for his role in enabling Hungary to regain its sovereignty after the collapse of Communism in 1989 and the subsequent withdrawal of Soviet troops.

He said, "a statesman has only one chance to make a wise decision. His mistakes can not be corrected ever." Mr. Orban added he is confident that history will look favorable towards President Reagan saying how "wise he was to manage the changes and how successful he was in preserving peace." President Ronald Reagan, he said, "made the right choice."

Scholars say that under Mr. Reagan's presidency from 1981 through 1989 the Soviet Union began to crumble in part because the United States regained superiority in the arms race.

The late president's supporters also claim that his public calls for more human rights and freedom was a weapon as powerful as any in the U.S. or Soviet arsenal.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Rice said Mr. Reagan was inspired by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against Soviet domination, which was crushed by Soviet soldiers. "The men and women of '56 inspired Americans and all free peoples never again to leave those alone who are struggling for their freedom. And they inspired most of all Ronald Reagan," she said.

The statue is the second memorial erected in Mr. Reagan's honor in Budapest. A bust of the former actor and governor of California was placed in the City Park in 2006.

In March, Hungary's postal service also issued a commemorative envelope and postmark celebrating the centenary of Mr. Reagan's birth.

Communists criticized the statue. In a statement the Hungarian Communist Workers Party said that Hungarians "have nothing to do with" President Reagan. In its words, "he served the interests of American Big Capital bent on ruling the world."

The unveiling of the statue is among several celebrations being held this week across Europe to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan.

They include a memorial mass Monday in Krakow, Poland, and the renaming of a street after President Reagan in the Czech capital Prague.

Wednesday's ceremony came shortly before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to visit Hungary during a four-day trip to Europe to support international human rights and democracy.

Clinton will inaugurate a human rights center supporting minorities named after the late American Congressman Tom Lantos, who was born in Hungary.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, California Republican U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis and several Hungarian officials also attended the ceremony.

The bronze statue was sculpted by Istvan Mate, and portrays Mr. Reagan in mid-stride with his hands open.