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Victims of Hungarian toxic spill to hold off protest

by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Nov 18, 2010
Victims of a toxic mud spill in Hungary last month have said they will hold off a planned protest for compensation if they receive a visit by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"Viktor Orban promised us full compensation," the demonstrators' spokesman Geza Csenki told a gathering late Wednesday at Devecser, one of the villages hardest hit by a wave of red mud on October 4 that killed ten and destroyed countless homes.

"If he pays us a visit within a week, we will not carry out our protest," he added.

Csenki had announced Wednesday that the victims of the toxic sludge spill were planning a march Friday on a nearby major road, in a bid to slow traffic and draw attention to their plight.

So far, only about 40 million forint (145,000 euros, 198,000 dollars) have been paid out to the region's inhabitants out of a compensation fund of 1.2 billion forint.

The government argues villagers must first make clear whether they intend to stay put or move to new housing further away.

The residents meanwhile protest that they have not been given enough information on whether it is safe to stay.

Orban's office did not say Thursday whether the prime minister may visit the affected region.

But in a statement, his spokesman Peter Szijjarto assured: "The Prime Minister is continuously requesting and receiving information about reconstruction work."

"This work is supervised on the ground by 44 people from the governmental Coordination Committee for Reconstruction," the statement added, noting that a representative from the agriculture ministry was also on site to discuss land swaps with the victims, whose fields have been polluted by the toxic sludge.

Hundreds lost their homes and livelihoods after a holding reservoir at an alumina plant, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest, burst its walls on October 4.

The crack sent more than 700,000 cubic metres of toxic red mud spilling across an area of 40 square kilometres (15.4 square miles), polluting the Danube River and its tributaries and causing an ecological disaster.

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