Plans for a militant "Gypsy Guard" shelved after Hungarian outcry

Budapest  - Political parties of all stripes on Wednesday slammed provocative plans by a Roma group to set up its own "Gypsy Guard" in response to the controversial extreme right-wing, paramilitary "Hungarian Guard".

Laszlo Padar, head of a Roma interest group in western Hungary, told the local press on Tuesday of plans to set up a "Gypsy Self- Defence Guard" in the near future.

However, Padar - who is also a socialist councillor in the town of Gyor - withdrew his plans on Wednesday afternoon after provoking a storm of protest.

"The setting up of a Roma Guard could lead to accusations of incitement," said Attila Horvath, the head of the local Roma minority council.

The government's Roma affairs commissioner Laszlo Teleki also opposed the idea, noting that it was "unfortunate" when organisations seek to take politics out on to the streets.

Representatives of the centre-right party Fidesz went as far as to call for Padar's dismissal from Gyor local council.

The plan to set up a "guard" had been a response to growing fear amongst and discrimination against the Roma in Hungary, Padar said.

He cited an anti-Roma demonstration organised by the Hungarian Guard the previous weekend in the village of Ivan as spurring him to action.

However, the thought of pitched battles on Hungary's streets between Roma and extreme-right wing paramilitaries was too much for mainstream politicians.

"Instead of two groups of guards marching against each other, the state must protect its citizens," said Ibolya David, the head of the opposition Democratic Forum party.

The liberal Free Democrats also condemned Padar's plan.

"The Free Democrats condemn any initiative that aims at setting up aggressive organisations, including the idea of a Gypsy Guard," the opposition party said in a statement.

Not quite everyone was against the Roma councillor's idea, however.

"People no longer want to have to hide in fear as they did last Saturday when the Hungarian Guard held its event in our village," the president of the Roma minority council in the village of Ivan, Tibor Vass, was quoted as saying by the local press.

The Hungarian Guard, a uniformed offshoot of the nationalist political party Jobbik, was ordered to disband in January. A Budapest court ruled that it had infringed the human rights of Roma villagers during a demonstration against what the group calls "Gypsy crime".

The group continues to operate while the ruling is appealed, and its leaders have said they will continue in one form or another regardless of the final court ruling.

The Roma make up about seven per cent of Hungary's population of ten million, and are amongst its poorest citizens. Anti-Roma sentiment is deep-rooted in Hungarian society.

At the end of January, the chief of police in the eastern Hungarian city of Miskolc echoed a view held by large numbers of Hungarians when, at a press conference, he blamed the Roma for the bulk of street crime.

Albert Pasztor was reinstated at the weekend after a large public demonstration and support from the socialist-led local council. The Hungarian Guard also participated in the demo, to Pasztor's professed bemusement.

Despite shelving his plan to play the extreme right at its own game, Padar refuses to leave things as they stand.

"I nevertheless maintain there is a need to set up a strong (Roma) interest group, which can also show its strength through demonstrations," Padar said. (dpa)

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