Hungary sees 4th day of protests over overtime, other issues

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Several thousand protesters marched through Budapest for a fourth day to oppose laws promoted by the Hungarian government that critics say will restrict workers’ rights and have undermined democracy.

The protesters chanted anti-government slogans and braved sub-zero temperatures Sunday while gathered in front of parliament, where speakers denounced revised overtime rules that lawmakers approved Wednesday.

The crowd became increasingly angry as speakers called for the demonstrations to remain dignified and peaceful, chanting “We’ve had enough!” and “Strike, strike, strike!”

Perhaps as a result, the event’s final speaker was more defiant. Anna Donath , the daughter of an outspoken minister, lit a smoke flare and declared, “We will not tire. We won’t go home. Today we are twice as much as yesterday. We are (growing) day by day. This is a mass community.”

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Police detained Donath on Thursday for lighting a flare during a protest.

The labor code amendments that sparked the protests increase the maximum number of overtime hours that companies can demand from workers in a year from 250 to 400. The changes, intended to offset Hungary’s growing labor shortage, also give employers up to three years instead of 12 months to settle payments of accrued overtime.

Since the first protest on Wednesday night and others held Thursday and Friday, the demonstrations have evolved to encompass other policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, including another bill passed Wednesday that establishes a separate court for administrative matters.

A government spokesman, asked to comment on Sunday’s demonstration, said in an email that citizens had a constitutional right to assemble freely as long as laws weren’t broken in the process.

On Thursday, some protesters threw bottles and smoke bombs at officers in riot gear guarding the neo-Gothic parliament building. Police said two officers were injured.

The demonstrations have attracted disparate participants from across Hungary’s political spectrum. They include members of Jobbik, which started out as a radical right movement and has worked to reframe itself as a “peoples'” party. A clutch of left and liberal opposition parties, trade unions and supporters of a Budapest university founded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

Central European University announced this month it was leaving Hungary for Austria, saying it had been “chased out” by Orban’s government.

After Sunday’s official protest ended, hundreds of demonstrators marched across the Danube River, blocking at least two major road bridges and flanked by police. One faction, chanting for a free media, declared it was heading for the state television building, four miles away in a northwestern suburb of the Hungarian capital.

Orban’s allies have denounced the protests as the work of liberal organizations financed by Soros. Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, called Thursday night’s participants Soros’s “kept people” displaying “open anti-Christian hatred.”

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