BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungary formally declared an end to 40 years of communist rule Monday and proclaimed itself a republic, setting the stage for a Western-style democracy in the East Bloc state.
The declaration came on the 33rd anniversary of the start of the ill-fated 1956 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by Soviet troops and tanks.
'I solemnly declare that as of today, the 23rd of October 1989, Hungary is a republic and its name is the Republic of Hungary,' acting President Matyas Szuros said from the balcony of the neo-Gothic Parliament, to the thunderous, sustained applause of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians in the square below.
Huge Hungarian flags, some with holes cut out where the state seal contained the hated Soviet red star, waved through the ocean of faces gathered to see the fulfillment of a dream launched 33 years ago.
Szuros spoke from the same balcony where on Oct. 23, 1956, Prime Minister Imre Nagy vainly implored a rebellious crowd to stay calm and go home.
Nagy's speech was lost in the confusion when word spread that police had fired on a crowd at the Budapest radio building nearby. The revolution had begun only to be crushed ruthlessly by the Soviet Union.
Szuros, his voice thick with emotion, said Hungary is ready to exert its independence from decades of Soviet domination.
'Hungary will be an independent, democratic, lawful state in which the values of bourgeois democracy and democratic socialism will be equally exerted,' Szuros said in his brief speech.
Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth said Sunday Hungary's proclamation of a republic, Europe's first under a democratic constitution since Spain's in 1931, can be 'fulfilled without bloodshed.'
Parliament last week cleared the way for Hungary's emergence as a parliamentary democracy with a sysstem more closely resembling Western multi-party democracies than communist one-party systems.
'Last week closed down an old period and opened a new one in our history,' Nemeth said Sunday night on the Hungarian television news program 'The Week.' 'Our struggle can be fulfulled without bloodshed, not like 33 years ago.'
'Those who used terror to defeat the people were tragically mistaken because the people only wanted to live,' Nemeth said in a pointed reference to Moscow. 'We don't have to fear that a power will conquer us, now that our hands are not tied (and prevented from) routing tyranny.'
Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians planned to march Monday from three sites that played improtant roles in the 1956 uprising: the Technological University, where the student protest began that sparked the revolution, Corwin Street, where some of the fiercest fighting took place, and Heroes Square, the site of many pro-democracy political gatherings.
Monday's march was organized by opposition parties and groups, including the 200,000-member Democratic Forum, the largest opposition group in the country.
The forum held a congress last week and nominated sociologist Lajos Fur for the post of state president. The forum had said it would back the top communist reformer, Imre Pozsgay, but spokesman Istvan Csurka explained the nomination was made to give voters a wider choice.
'The nomination is not against Pozsgay but to stand beside him so that Hungary can choose between good and better,' he said.
The election of the president, and for parliament early next year, will be the first free elections since 1947 when the political parties were allowed to run candidates freely in contests rigged by the communists.
The proposed date for the presidential election is Nov. 25 but two opposition groups, the Young Democrats and the Alliance of Free Democrats, have collected enough signatures to force a referendum and it may be postponed.
Quietly, most signs of Soviet influence have been stripped from the capital.
All but one of the illuminated red stars dotting the Budapest skyline have been removed. The remaining one -- looming above the Parliament's dome -- lost its luster when workers extinguished its lights last week. The 3-ton edifice will be removed soon during scheduled renovations.
Hungary has taken the lead in the rush to democracy in Eastern Europe but recent developments show the potential for reforms in nearly every other communist state.
Poland, the East Bloc's other emerging liberal state, has yet to amend its constitution or disband its Communist Party as Hungary has done, but it has the bloc's first non-communist government, led by a Solidarity prime minister.
Dissent is growing in Czechoslovakia, where tens of thousands of citizens signed a petition demanding democratic reforms, and most experts believe it is only a matter of time before the hard-line government falls.
In East Germany, where Erich Honecker, the man who built the Berlin Wall, resigned last week, new party leader Egon Krenz is moving toward reform with plans to ease travel restrictions and censorship of the media.
Non-aligned Yugoslavia is still mired in fighting between its many republics over how to proceed with reforms.
Only Romania, still in the firm grip of Nicolae Ceausescu and his extensive family, and independent Albania, struggling to emerge from its isolationist shell, have yet to be affected by the glasnost and perestroika reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.