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Second Saturday protest tackles Hungary government on media freedom

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Second Saturday protest tackles Hungary government on media freedom

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Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied in the Hungarian capital Budapest for the second successive Saturday, this time challenging controls on the media and a campaign against non-governmental organisations.

Organisers said over 100,000 people took part in what was also the second mass protest against Viktor Orban’s government since the April 8 election, which saw the prime minister’s right-wing nationalist Fidesz party win two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

Demonstrators urged unity among the country’s fragmented opposition parties, who took part in the rally. They walked from the parliament building to the foot of Elizabeth Bridge which crosses the Danube, where they waved national and EU flags.

The protesters claim that the election was compromised by pro-government state media and a growing number of private media outlets supported by the state which also back Orban. The view that the elecction was marked by media bias has been backed by observers from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Organisers said in a pre-rally Facebook post that state media had been turned into the prime minister’s “propaganda machine”. It said the main goal was to “dismantle Fidesz control over the public media”, adding that opposition parties bore responsibility for the current situation.

“History has proved that no oppressive regime lasts forever,” said opposition politician Peter Marki-Zay, who beat the Fidesz candidate in a mayoral by-election in February. “We shall fight… against their media dominance and factories of lies.”

The crowd reportedly included supporters of parties from the left and nationalist right, as well as environmentalists, independents and others.

Orban’s third straight election victory – which was welcomed by right-wing and populist parties in Europe – appears to have emboldened him in his fight against the EU’s migration policies and in his battle against non-governmental organisations he accuses of meddling in Hungary’s affairs.

On Friday the prime minister accused financier George Soros of political activism in Hungary, saying his circle had supported the opposition. “I know they won’t accept the result of the election, they will organise all sorts of things, they have unlimited financial resources,” Orban said.

Soros’ Open Society Foundation accused the prime minister of trying to stifle NGOs. It has said it could leave the country if parliament passes a “Stop Soros” law that would impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to non-governmental groups that "support" illegal immigration. NGO staff could also be prevented from entering border areas.

Orban based his re-election campaign almost exclusively on anti-migration policies, and since their victory Fidesz members of parliament have vowed to act quickly to approve the bill, which they say is meant to deter illegal immigration.