Jewish Community President Laszlo Rona informs the press as several broken gravestones lay on the grass in the local Jewish cemetery of Kaposvar.

Vandals have desecrated 57 tombs containing the remains of around 250 people at a Jewish cemetery in Hungary, Jewish groups said on Monday.

“This is clearly motivated by racism,” Laszlo Rona, who heads the association of Jewish communities in Kaposvar in southwest Hungary where the incident took place over the weekend, told the MTI national news agency.

The headstones, some of which date back to the late 19th century, were knocked over and about 3.5 million forints' (12 000 euros, $15 000) worth of damage was caused.

Footprints in the muddy ground indicated two people were involved.

Attila Gelencser, speaker of the regional assembly and Kaposvar's mayor Karoly Szita, both from Hungary's ruling right-wing Fidesz party, slammed the vandalism, as did local organisations and opposition politicians.

A string of similar recent incidents have raised fears about a rise in anti-Jewish feeling in the European Union member state under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Recent months have witnessed a public rehabilitation of controversial figures, most notably of Miklos Horthy, Hungary's dictator from 1920 until 1944, and of anti-Semitic writers like Albert Wass and Jozsef Nyiro.

In May Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary's highest honour because of what he called a “whitewashing” of history, while acclaimed pianist Andras Schiff has stopped performing in his native country.

Hungary came in for more criticism this month after it emerged that 97-year-old Laszlo Csatary, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's most-wanted Nazi war criminal, has been living freely here for the past 15 years.

The former senior policeman, accused by the Wiesenthal Centre of having helped organise the deportation of around 16 000 Jews to death camps during World War II, was arrested and placed under house arrest last Wednesday. - AFP