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Anti-government protesters mass for 5th day in Hungary

New labour law sparks days of demonstrations with MPs accusing police of taking orders from private security guards

A demonstrator poses in front of police during a protest against a proposed new labour law in Budapest. Reuters
A demonstrator poses in front of police during a protest against a proposed new labour law in Budapest. Reuters

A few thousand demonstrators gathered in freezing temperatures outside Hungary's state broadcaster on Monday night in a fifth day of protests against the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

MPs from all opposition parties said they would continue protests until they were allowed to read out a list of demands on state television.

The protests were sparked by a new labour law that in essence enables the return of a six-day work week, if an employee agrees, with overtime payments potentially unpaid for up to three years.

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New anti-Orban demonstration held in Hungary

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But protesters' demands expanded to include cleaning up state corruption, creating an independent judiciary and neutral state media.

"We are not going anywhere," Timea Szabo, an MP for the small, centrist Dialogue party, told the crowd.

"The law has not been trampled on in such a way here for 30 years," she said, apparently referring to the roughing up of some legislators by security guards at the MTVA building early on Monday.

Demonstrators repeatedly chanted slogans like "We won't leave" and "They are lying day and night!"

MPs accused police of taking orders from private security guards when forcing them out of the building.

Agnes Vadai of the Democratic Coalition, a centre-left party, told the Associated Press that she had been manhandled by security guards.

"This is nonsense," she said of the lack of help from police. "It's their obligation to protect all Hungarian citizens, regardless of their position."

Ten MPs had entered the building, insisting on the right to read their five demands live on air, including the scrapping of the labour law.

The government defended the scheme, saying it will ease the shortage of workers, especially in the booming auto and manufacturing sectors, and enable employees to earn more money as they wish.

Mr Orban's allies denounced the protests as the work of liberal groups financed by Hungarian-American tycoon George Soros. The Open Society Foundations, an organisation founded by Mr Soros, denied the accusation.

"The Hungarian people are protesting against their government because they have legitimate grievances. Nobody believes Viktor Orban's false assertion that George Soros is behind these protests," the group said.

Updated: December 18, 2018 11:50 AM

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