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GYONGYOSPATA, Hungary (Reuters) - Hundreds of Roma residents fled from a village in northern Hungary fearing attacks by right-wing vigilantes Friday but the government denied it was an emergency evacuation.
A vigilante group called Vedero (Defence Force) said it had set up a training camp in the area to hold exercises during the Easter weekend, but denied trying to provoke Roma residents.
Aladar Horvath, leader of the Roma Civil Rights Movement, said 276 women and children were evacuated Friday from Gyongyospata, about 90 km east of Budapest.
Gyula Racz, a 32-year-old local resident, told Reuters that he, like many others, had sent his wife and children to Budapest to avoid trouble.
"Let them have a calm Easter as the gossip here is that there will be lots of men in uniform," he said. Vedero members often wear trademark uniforms of camouflage and red berets.
But Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian prime minister's spokesman, was quoted as saying by the MTI news agency that reports of an emergency evacuation were "quite clearly a lie."
He was quoted as saying that people's departure was part of a vacation organised with the help of the Red Cross.
Friction between Roma and the rest of population is endemic. More than a half-dozen Roma were killed in a string of attacks in 2008 and 2009. A group of men accused in those killings went on trial in Budapest earlier this month.
Community members said they felt the government was not doing enough to protect them.
"They are scared, and they want to be safe for the Easter holiday," Horvath told Reuters, adding that the women and children had been sent to a camp in Budapest and another location in eastern Hungary.
"We had called on the Red Cross to help evacuate these people."
The Red Cross sought to distance itself from the dispute and issued a statement saying it had organised the trip at the request of the Roma community in Gyongyospata for the Easter holidays, while denying it was an evacuation.
The Defence Force said on its website its 3-day camp in Gyongyospata would prepare youth for self-defence, and those interested should bring along boxing gloves and Airsoft weapons.
The government said it would do everything to stop any illegal activity. Police said five vigilantes had been detained, saying it saw their uniforms as a gesture of intimidation.
A police officer told Reuters any other members spotted wearing camouflage would also be detained. The government issued a decree saying unlawful vigilante activity would be punished with a fine of up to 100,000 forints (334.14 pounds).
Most vigilante groups enjoy the backing of the far right party Jobbik, which gained 46 seats in Hungary's 386-member parliament in last year's election and says the government has not done enough to ensure public safety.
Another vigilante group, called Brighter Future, has been patrolling the streets of another town called Hajduhadhaz in eastern Hungary for weeks.
Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Maria Golovnina