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article imageRomania, Hungary trade barbs after scuffles at war cemetery

By AFP     Jun 7, 2019 in World

Romania and Hungary traded barbs Friday after scuffles broke out at a cemetery in Transylvania, amid tensions between Romanian nationalists and the region's minority ethnic-Hungarians.

A group of Romanians clashed Thursday with ethnic-Hungarian protestors seeking to block the entrance to an Austro-Hungarian WWI cemetery in Valea Uzului after a memorial to Romanian soldiers was erected there.

Both Hungarian and Romanian military casualties of the two world wars are buried at the cemetery, according to Romanian historians.

Tensions reignited in April after a local mayor arranged for concrete crosses to be put up to honour the Romanian soldiers.

A Romanian police spokesman told AFP that a criminal investigation had been opened into Thursday's scuffles, including for vandalism as the cemetery's wooden entrance gate was broken.

Several people sustained minor injuries during the confrontation, according to Hungarian media.

Budapest has summoned Romania's ambassador to discuss the incident and called for a "comprehensive" probe.

"Naturally, everyone has the right to remember their own heroes and dead, but this cannot occur unlawfully and in a manner that violates the rights of others to pay their respects," a Hungarian government official said in a statement.

Bucharest, in turn, accused Budapest of fanning tensions by giving a "distorted presentation of the situation" in its public statements and on social media, with the foreign ministry calling for an end to "provocations and the escalation of tensions".

A senior Hungarian official was among those at the cemetery without an invitation from Bucharest, the Romanian foreign ministry added.

Tensions between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians -- who account for 1.2 million of the 19.5 million population with many living in the "Szeklerland" area near the Carpathian mountains -- have long been simmering, but outright confrontations are rare.

Pope Francis visited the region early this month with tens of thousands attending his open-air mass at a pilgrimage site, seen as the highlight of his three-day Romania trip.

In his homily, Francis urged Romanians and ethnic Hungarians to put the troubled past behind them and "live together as brothers and sisters".

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