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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Top Hungarian communist on trial over 1956 revolt deaths

A senior figure in Hungary's former communist regime went on trial Tuesday charged with war crimes over the brutal crackdown of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising.
Prosecutors accuse Bela Biszku, 92, of "active involvement" in decisions to order security forces to open fire on crowds in two incidents in December 1956 during which some 50 people died.
In total during the uprising, more than 2,000 civilians were killed after Soviet tanks rolled into the country. Some 300 were executed, more than 20,000 were jailed and 200,000 fled the country.
Biszku, who later became interior minister, was arrested in September 2012 and has been under house arrest since. He is the first of Hungary's 1956 communist leaders to face a criminal investigation.
"A member of the narrowest circle of party leadership," Biszku's committed "war crimes -- as an abettor -- and homicide against more than one person," prosecutors said in court Tuesday.
Biszku has also been charged with "complicity in criminal acts" for covering up reprisals after the revolt.
Biszku denies the charges, for which he could face a life sentence. Walking with a stick but still sprightly, he refused to make a statement in court.
His defence lawyer Gabor Magyar told AFP outside the courtroom a verdict is likely in May and that he expects Biszku will be acquitted.
"I'm confident that the Fourth Geneva Convention (which defines humanitarian protection for civilians in a war zone) should not apply in this case," Magyar said.
"Also anything that the accused might have committed in the past is already time-barred," he added.
In 2011, the conservative government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban modified a law to enable people suspected of involvement in the 1956 reprisals to be tried.
pmu/stu/mfp

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