Pro-Hungarian PM march draws 100,000 in Budapest: organisers

Around 100,000 people rallied in Budapest on Saturday, organisers said, to support Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is under fire from Brussels and opponents at home over sweeping constitutional reforms. The demonstration was organised by journalists close to Orban's ruling centre-right Fidesz party to show it could still rally the masses. "Thanks to exaggerated and biased reports, our country is being portrayed in an unjust and undignified way and that is harming our economy and our people," the organisers said in their call to protest. Hungary has in recent weeks come under fire from the European Union, the United States and other international bodies over its constitutional reforms, which came into effect January 1. Particularly contentious are new rules that critics say threaten Hungary's system of checks and balances, jeopardise religious safeguards and rig the electoral system in Orban's favour, while also curbing press freedoms. The European Commission has given Hungary a month to change some of its controversial laws, including those related to the independence of the central bank. These laws have impeded talks over a 20-billion-euro ($25-billion) credit line from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. "We want nothing else than for the people of Europe and the United States to understand that we want to live in freedom, within the framework of democracy, by respecting others," organisers said. Orban has said he is willing to modify some new laws. The prime minister is set to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday to further discuss the issue. On January 2, a protest organised by opposition and rights groups against the new constitution attracted some 70,000 people. Following that, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi claimed the government could "get 10 times as many people out onto the street." Saturday's demonstrators came from all over Hungary, as well as neighbouring countries with a strong ethnic Hungarian population, such as Romania and Slovakia. Many of those taking part carried Hungarian flags and banners with slogans saying, "We love our country, we love Viktor." Many in Hungary are wary of international involvement in the country's politics. Following World War I, Hungary ceded some two-thirds of its territory under the Treaty of Trianon. The crowd was peaceful, playing drums and repeatedly singing the Hungarian anthem and revolutionary chants from the 1848-1849 rebellion against Austria. Some marchers brandished anti-EU placards. While some demonstrators, mostly aged 50 and above, were prepared to acknowledge the country had problems, they insisted Orban still had their support. The march broke up peacefully after reaching parliament. Another demonstration is scheduled for Sunday, this time to support Klubradio, the country's only opposition radio station, which last month was stripped of its broadcast frequency.

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