More Roma killings in Hungary

20th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

Amid rising anti-gypsy sentiment, the Roma community in Hungary insists that recent killings were racially sparked.

Budapest -- A Roma couple was killed when a grenade was thrown through the front window of their house in southern Hungary, authorities said on Wednesday.

The latest of a series of such attacks prompted an immediate outcry within the Roma community including calls for police to take prompt and decisive action.

The victims were a 37-year-old man and his 31-year-old wife in the town of Pecs, one that is currently getting ready for its turn as European Capital of Culture in 2010.

The couple's three children, all of whom survived the attack, were placed with relatives after being treated for minor injuries.

Police quickly dismissed the idea that the attack had been racially motivated. The case was probably a Mafia-style revenge killing, county police spokesman Peter Zsobrak told Hungarian television.

He said police had found no evidence of a link to a recent attack that also left two Roma dead. In that attack on Nov. 3, a man and a woman were killed in a hail of gunfire after petrol bombs were thrown into two houses in a village in northeastern Hungary.

But the dismissal of a racist motive for the latest killings sparked outrage in the Roma community. Leaders of Roma councils from southern Hungary hastily called a press conference where they demanded to know why the police were so quick to rule out racism.

The leading Roma representative for the county in which the attack took place found it "strange" that "such cases always involve gypsy people".

The head of the Pecs Roma minority council dismissed suspicions that the man who died in the attack may have been involved in loan sharking or a prostitution racket. Istvan Kosztics added that he had visited the victim's home and seen the poverty in which they lived.

The national minority rights ombudsman Erno Kallai called Roma community leaders together in Budapest later on Wednesday. "The Roma community expects to receive adequate protection from the authorities," he said following the crisis meeting.

Kallai called for the police to set up a special squad to deal with crimes against the Roma minority. The detachment should focus particularly closely on the possible racist motivation behind such crimes, he added.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary commissioner for Roma affairs, Laszlo Teleki, already en route for Pecs, demanded that the chief of the local Baranya County police chief to comment personally on the affair.

Roma, or gypsies, make up about 7 percent of Hungary's population of 10 million.

Anti-gypsy sentiment has been rising over the past two years, most visibly with marches through Roma communities by the extreme nationalist Hungarian Guard, a uniformed paramilitary organisation.

Allied to the nationalist Movement for a Better Hungary, which hopes to get an member into the European Parliament in the 2009 election, the Hungarian Guard has been waging an active campaign against what it calls "gypsy crime".


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