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Hungary: trial of former communist minister starts

March 18, 2014

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Former interior minister Bela Biszku on Tuesday became the first communist leader to stand trial in Hungary for alleged war crimes since the end of the Soviet-backed regime in 1990.

The 92-year-old Biszku is facing charges related to reprisals against civilians after the anti-Soviet revolution of 1956. He chose not to testify at the opening court session but in earlier statements denied committing any crimes and said he was innocent.

Biszku was part of the Communist Party’s ruling interim executive committee after the October 1956 uprising was quickly crushed by Soviet forces. The committee created armed militias to carry out the repression, including firing indiscriminately into crowds at two rallies in December 1956 — one in Budapest and another in the town of Salgotarjan — killing 49 people.

Biszku is also on trial over his denial during a 2010 television interview of crimes committed by the communist regime — which, like denying the Holocaust, is illegal in Hungary.

Biszku’s lawyer, Gabor Magyar, said the indictment read in court by prosecutor Tamas Vegh contained “fictional and unclarified elements.”

Magyar said a link needed to be proven between Biszku’s statements during meetings of the communist leadership and the shootings by militias.

“I think there is no written evidence ... which would support this,” Magyar said during a recess.

Because of Biszku’s age and frail health, court sessions are being limited to 40 minutes with 20-minute breaks.

Ilona Sinkovics, who was wounded during the 1956 revolution when troops fired into a crowd, said she was attending the trial to see Biszku face justice.

“The law has to declare his guilt,” Sinkovics said.

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