Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories, whether they be economic, political, cultural, sporting or among the hundreds of other happenings that go on daily.
Uni athletics hall burns down
The athletics centre of Budapest’s Sports University has burned down, causing millions of forints damage. Lajos Mocsai, the rector, said the indoors facility caught fire just before 5am last Thursday and an adjacent wall fell down along a ten-metre section. Firefighters managed to control the fire with water cannons within a little more than an hour. Some 250 students from a nearby dormitory had to vacate but have since been able to return. Mocsai said many relics of sports personalities had been destroyed in the fire.
Inquiry urged into police-migrants clash
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has asked the ombudsman for basic rights to investigate a clash between the Hungarian Counter-Terrorism Force (TEK) and migrants near the border with Serbia on September 16. The NGO wants a full inquiry into TEK’s crowd-control methods during the events at the Horgos-2 border crossing near the village of Röszke. “Without a thorough investigation it may never come to light whether TEK’s actions were in line with the law,” the Helsinki Committee said. TEK officers had “used tear gas and expandable batons, and marched at a crowd of migrants who entered Hungary’s territory through a newly-created gate through the border”. As a result of this police action several members of the public, including children and journalists, were injured, the NGO added. It put forward 15 proposals for the ombudsman to investigate, including looking into whether TEK had the authority to participate in crowd-control operations, whether the crowd had been given a warning and what the justification for using the expandable batons was. It would also ask whether detaining journalists had been lawful.
Norway hurdle for Euro 2016
Hungary will play a best-of-two matchup against Norway in a play-off for the Euro 2016 football championship in France. The national team’s track record against Norway is won six, drawn five, lost five but the last victory was 10 meetings ago in 1981. The first leg will be in Oslo on November 12 and the return leg three days later at Groupama Arena in Budapest. “Both teams have a 50 percent chance to qualify,” manager Bernd Storck (pictured) said after the draw. “The most important thing is that we come home from Oslo with a result offering a chance to decide the duel at the second game with the backing of the Hungarian supporters.”
Ombudsman against scrapping needle exchange
The fundamental rights ombudsman has said needle-exchange programmes should not be scrapped because they prevent the spread of contagious diseases and contribute to a healthy environment. László Székely said he had seen in the press that Budapest’s District XIII council had asked the Drug Prevention Foundation to end its programme for addicts after residents complained about increased traffic in the area due to the closure of the programme in District VIII. The ombudsman’s office said ending the District XIII scheme would worsen the quality of drug rehabilitation. Székely said needle-exchange does not promote drug use but rather contributes to rehabilitation and leads to a decline in illegal drug use. He called on the government to adopt a national drug prevention strategy for 2015 and 2016, and said District XIII’s mayor should put together a scheme that could potentially substitute the needle-exchange programme.
Preparations ‘going swimmingly’
FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu says he is “extremely satisfied” with preparations at Budapest’s Dagály swimming centre for the 2017 World Aquatics Championships. Marculescu was in Budapest with a FINA delegation to inspect preparation. He said the city had made significant progress since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, FINA president Julio C. Maglione and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós laid the cornerstone of the Dagály facility in May. Marculescu said he was certain that Dagály would be completed on schedule. He and Balázs Fürjes, government commissioner for priority investments, signed the arena’s final construction plans. Hungary won the right to host the 2017 championships in March after Guadalajara, Mexico, pulled out for financial reasons.
Drop of pálinka
Distilleries in Hungary have produced 2 million litres of pálinka this year, less than 20 percent of the amount in 2014, with the drastic fall largely a result of the elimination of the tax exemption for home distillation of spirits from January 2015. Legislation in force since autumn 2010 allowed Hungarian households to distill for personal consumption the equivalent of 50 litres of pálinka containing 86 percent alcohol tax-free every year. But an EU directive allows only a 50 percent reduction on the normal excise rate for such distillates. The cost of contract distillation for private consumption has increased from about HUF 700 per litre last year to about HUF 1,500 per litre due to the spirits tax.
Mobster jailed for 10 years
A Budapest court has sentenced Tamás Portik, the one-time head of an oil company involved in illicit deals in the 1990s, to ten years behind bars for instigating the murder of millionaire businessman József Prisztás in 1996. The second co-defendant, who was accused of carrying out the murder, was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The sentences were handed down by Budapest Capital Regional Court after Budapest Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in the case last October. Portik was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a first-instance court in February 2014, a sentence which was thrown out by the Court of Appeals. The Capital Regional Court acquitted the third co-defendant. Portik, seen as an underworld mobster, amassed a fortune as head of Energol Rt. between 1994 and 2000. He was at one point Hungary’s most wanted man. He is suspected of abetment in the Aranykéz utca bombing of July 1998 in which four people were killed, including the presumed target, businessman Tamás Boros, who was a key witness in the oil mafia cases. Portik’s case came up again more recently when a parliamentary fact-finding committee asked him, former secret-service chief Sándor Laborc and former secret-services minister György Szilvásy to appear at hearings into alleged meetings between Laborc and Portik in 2008. The committee later cleared Laborc of any wrongdoing.