Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Hungarians, Czechs hold anti-government protests

  • Demonstrators accused Orban of authoritarian and pro-Russian tendencies (Photo: habeebee)

Thousands rallied in Budapest on Monday (17 November) for a "day of public outrage” against Hungary’s government and its leader Viktor Orban.

Over 10,000 people reportedly took to the streets to protest a range of issues including corruption, government attempts to introduce an Internet tax, and Hungary’s gradual slide towards Russia.

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Demonstrators called for Orban’s resignation, accusing the centre-right prime minister of becoming increasingly authoritarian, as they chanted slogans like “we do not pay tax to criminals”.

The tax avoidance scandal broke last month when the US placed six Hungarian officials, including the head of the national tax authority, on an entry-ban list. US authorities have refused to publically name the individuals.

Hungary’s tax chief Ildiko Vida revealed she was on the list but has contested the US corruption allegations. She has also rejected calls for her resignation and refused to disclose the names of the five other public officials.

The tax graft accusations were followed by government plans to introduce the world’s first Internet tax. The proposal was scrapped following a massive protest, which saw some 100,000 protesters in the nation’s capital.

Hungary has also moved ahead with plans to start construction on the controversial South Stream pipeline, which will pump gas from Russia to Europe in contravention of EU competition and internal market rules.

"We don't want Orban to take us towards Putin and Russia," one demonstrator told AFP.

The country's situation has drawn attention elsewhere. Following his surprise win on Sunday Romania's president-elected Klaus Iohannis noted that Hungary's shift towards Russia is not a direction in which he wants to take Romania.

"My orientation is West. What is happening in Hungary now, that is not democracy going in the right direction," said Iohannis.

Despite public grievances - Monday's rally is the fourth demonstration in the past 30 days - Orban's Fidesz party still leads with a large majority over a fragmented opposition.

Some two-thirds of the parliament are from Fidesz, a feat accomplished in 2010 and then again earlier this year when Orban was voted in for a second term as prime minister.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic also saw protests on Monday.

Demonstrators accused the Czech government of being too sympathetic to Moscow.

The rally in Prague gathered as Czech president Milos Zeman celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on Monday.

Zeman has described the conflict in Ukraine as "a civil war between two groups of Ukrainian citizens", a position shared by Russia.

He has also called for a roll-back of EU sanctions against Moscow.

At one event, protesters pelted him with eggs, accidentally hitting the German head of state, before security men unfurled umbrellas.

They carried banners with slogans such as "down with Zeman" and "we do not want to be a Russian colony", the BBC reports.

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