Hungarians protest against unveiling of Hitler-ally statue

BUDAPEST - Far-right and anti-fascist demonstrators staged rival rallies Sunday outside a Budapest church where a bust of a Hungarian wartime leader was unveiled, the latest tribute to a man who was a close ally of Adolf Hitler.

Around 500 protesters wearing yellow stars - a reference to the Stars of David Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis - chanted "Nazi mob!" across a police line at supporters of Miklos Horthy.

Meanwhile, several hundred of the ex-leader's supporters, gathered around the bust, shouted: "Long live Horthy!"

An autocrat who ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944, Horthy passed anti-Jewish laws and oversaw the first wave of deportations of Hungarian Jews in 1944.

But he is also revered by some for saving Hungary after a short-lived communist revolution in 1919 and traumatic losses of territory following World War I.

"In my opinion, Horthy was a war criminal, directly responsible for the killing and destruction of 600,000 Hungarian Jews," one protester told AFP. "This should not be happening at a Christian church," he added.

Marton Gyongyosi, a deputy of the far-right Jobbik party who has sparked controversy in the past with his anti-Semitic comments, called Horthy a "national saviour" during a service at the church, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

Hungary has experienced something of a Horthy cult revival in rece nt years, with new statues dedicated to him and streets named after him.

Critics have also accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government of tacitly nurturing nostalgia for the wartime figure.

Sunday's unveiling, organised by a pastor with far-right links, marked the 75th anniversary of a wartime accord with Nazi Germany under which Hungary reclaimed territory lost under the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty.