Thousands of Hungarians protest against far-right government

Protesters took to the streets of Hungary’s capital for the fifth consecutive day to object to what they call ‘slave laws’ as anger grows over the authoritarian rule of right-wing nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban.

Thousands of people have been protesting against so-called “slavery laws” introduced last week by  Orban.

The new rules mean companies can demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for up to three years.

The right-wing government which has built its wide support on nativist and anti-immigration rhetoric ironically argued that the new labour laws are needed to relieve a shortage of workers.

At least 10,000 people rallied in Budapest on Sunday – a rare large-scale anti-government demonstration in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies enjoy widespread support, despite repeated condemnation from other EU nations.

Sunday’s protest, billed as the “Merry Xmas Mr Prime Minister” was organised by leftist opposition parties, student groups and civilians campaigning against Orban’s government.

As well as opposing the new labour laws, protesters are also calling for an independent judiciary, independent public media, and for Hungary to join the EU Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Since taking office in 2010, Orban has gradually chipped away at the country’s democratic structures, reducing judicial independence, taking control of most state and private media and reshaping the electoral system to favour his party, Fidesz.

On Monday, at least four opposition MPs were assaulted after they visiting the state media headquarters to request that the broadcasters end their wall-to-wall support for Orban.

Orban has repeatedly clashed with EU leaders in Brussels after boosting his control over the courts and the media. In September, MEPs voted to censure the Hungarian government for eroding democracy and failing to uphold fundamental EU values.

The measure to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedures could see Orban’s government eventually lose its EU voting rights.

Orban was re-elected in April on the back of a fiercely anti-immigration campaign, facing a weak and fragmented opposition but analysts said the shocking nature of the assaults on the opposition lawmakers, and the unusually strong displays of solidarity among opposition parties during the protests, could signal a new dawn for the opposition.


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