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Hungary: Protesters reject government's closer Russia links

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/05/2017 By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press
Participants march during the civic Momentum Movement's protest entitled "We belong to Europe" in central Budapest, Hungary, Monday, May 1, 2017. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP) © The Associated Press Participants march during the civic Momentum Movement's protest entitled "We belong to Europe" in central Budapest, Hungary, Monday, May 1, 2017. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Thousands of protesters in Hungary rejected the government's growing ties to Russia on Sunday, the 13th anniversary of Hungary's European Union membership.

Participants marched through downtown Budapest carrying Hungarian and European flags, shouting "Europe! Europe!" and reciting slogans against Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government. The Momentum Movement, a new political party, organized the event.

Orban is "driving the nation toward Moscow," party chairman Andras Fekete-Gyor said. "Instead of the rich, modern and free Europe, he sets the poor, oppressed and underdeveloped Russia as the example for our country."

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hungary for the second time in two years. Critics say a draft law seen designed to stigmatize and intimidate civic groups that receive foreign funding is similar to a law Russia already has.

Moscow is also expanding Hungary's Soviet-built nuclear power plant while loaning Hungary 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion), about 80 percent of the project's cost. Hungary already depends on Russia for much of its imported oil and gas.

Fekete-Gyor also criticized the Hungarian government's "Let's Stop Brussels" campaign, which claims among other things that the EU wants Hungary to raise energy prices and take in potentially large numbers of illegal migrants.

The protest was the latest against Orban's government in recent weeks.

Previous demonstrations have been held over the new requirements for NGOs that receive foreign funding and against amendments to the country's higher education law that could lead to the move or closure of Budapest's Central European University.

The European Union, the Council of Europe, as well as the European People's Party to which Orban's Fidesz party belongs, have called on the government to stick to European rules and suspend or modify the both laws.

"The constant attacks on Europe, which Fidesz has launched for years, have reached a level we cannot tolerate," EPP president Joseph Daul said after meeting Orban in Brussels on Saturday.

Despite the protests, one of which attracted some 70,000 people, Fidesz retains a large lead in opinion polls one year ahead of the next parliamentary election.

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