AFP - Hungarian lawmakers voted in a new prime minister Tuesday, but protesters angered by their decision to bypass elections amid a deep recession clashed with police outside parliament.
Gordon Bajnai, a 41-year-old economist, vowed results within 12 months and said he would take just one symbolic forint by way of salary, as thousands gathered to protest against his fast-tracked appointment.
After repeating their calls for a snap general election, first issued when predecessor Ferenc Gyurcsany resigned last month, hundreds clashed with police -- some protesters setting fire to a European Union flag, before spitting and urinating on it.
The demonstrators "tried to break through the fences around parliament and threw different kinds of objects at policemen," a force spokesman said.
Police responded with tear gas grenades and made nine arrests, officials added.
Bajnai was elected by a clear majority -- 204 deputies from the 386-seat parliament -- to replace Gyurcsany in a so-called "constructive no-confidence motion." There were no dissenting votes and eight abstentions.
The motion, tabled by Gyurcsany's own Socialist party, enabled the grouping, backed by their former allies, the Liberals, to manage a constitutional handover without fresh polls.
Lagging in opinion polls, neither party wanted to face a public vote.
"My only goal is that a year from now, Hungary will be in better shape," Bajnai said during the parliamentary session.
His government only has a year before general elections scheduled for spring 2010.
Opposition party Fidesz, flying high in polls, snubbed the vote, insisting that early elections was the only way to re-establish confidence.
Outside the parliamentary building, right-leaning civil associations, including the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, called for the complete dissolution of parliament and early polls, slamming Bajani as the "traitor of the nation."
Hungarian news agency MTI put the number of demontrators at around 8,000, but the figure was not confirmed by police.
Gyurcsany announced his resignation on March 21, after failing to secure support for his unpopular reforms in the crisis-hit country, whose economy is expected to shrink by up to six percent this year.
Hungary has been one of the countries hardest hit by the global economic crisis and averted financial meltdown only with a hefty lifeline provided by the International Monetary Fund, European Union and World Bank last October.
In exchange, Hungary pledged to cut back on state expenses to reduce its public deficit.
While Bajnai is seen as a close friend and ally of Gyurcsany, he is not a member of the socialist party and named six new independent experts to his cabinet, taking up key portfolios such as the finance and economy ministries.
Pledging to take immediate action to rein in the public deficit, relaunch economic growth and regain investor confidence, Bajnai said he would reveal the details of his "painful" austerity plans once his cabinet holds its inaugural meeting later this week.
Some of the proposals have already been leaked, however, after Bajnai circulated a letter to Socialist and Liberal deputies beforehand, insisting they sign up to his belt-tightening as a condition of his taking office.
The proposals include a two-year wage freeze for civil servants and the abolition of the traditional 13th month salary for the public sector.
Bajnai also plans to scrap various welfare and family subsidies and raise the retirement age.