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Massive protest in Hungary against bill that could oust Soros university

Reuters


* Protests for academic freedom amid crackdown on NGOs
    * University law awaits President's signature, due Monday
    * Students stage unannounced march on ruling Fidesz HQ

 (Recasts, adds students marching on Fidesz HQ)
    By Marton DunaiBUDAPEST, April 9 (Reuters) - Hungarians rose up in one of
the largest protests against the seven-year rule of right-wing
Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday, protesting against new
legislation that could force out of the country one of its top
international universities.
    The Central European University (CEU), a school founded by
U.S. financier George Soros, could be forced to leave Hungary
after a bill passed in Parliament this week by Orban's Fidesz
party set stringent, new conditions under which it must operate.
    The bill has led to criticism from hundreds of leading
academics worldwide as well as from the U.S. government and the
European Union. [nL5N1HC1QN]
    The protest drew some of the largest crowds against Orban's
seven-year rule, with organisers estimating attendance around
70,000. The crowd marched across a bridge over the river Danube
and filled the square outside Parliament, which was defended by
several lines of police, some in riot gear.
    Thousands of people, mostly students, stayed on after the
main protest for an unannounced march on the building of the
Education Secretariat, then on to the headquarters of Fidesz,
where where they chanted anti-Fidesz slogans before, with
numbers dwindling, they blocked Oktogon square, a busy
intersection in central Budapest.
    Though passionate, the protest remained peaceful throughout.
    Hungarian President Janos Ader must now sign the bill by
Monday to make it law. The protesters said they wanted to
convince Ader to reject the bill and refer it to a
constitutional review.
    "What do we want Ader to do? VETO," the crowd chanted. "Free
country, free university!"
    "The government wants to silence pretty much everyone who
doesn't think the same as them, who thinks freely, who can be
liberal, can be leftist," protest organiser Kornel Klopfstein, a
PhD student at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, told
Reuters.
    "According to the government one of the centres of these
people is at CEU... We should stand up for academic freedom and
for CEU."
    The students sat down on the pavement and chanted slogans
like "Here is the end, Viktor", or "Fidesz is dirty".

    CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT
    The government has been tightening up on dissent in other
ways as well, proposing tighter rules on non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), which will have to register with
authorities if they have a yearly foreign income of 7.2 million
forints($25,000). [nL5N1HD4CW]
    The rules are admittedly targeting organisations funded by
Soros, a Hungarian-born American financier who for decades has
given away billions of dollars of his fortune to support causes
of a liberal "open society" worldwide.
    The Hungarian premier has often vilified Soros, whose ideals
are squarely at odds with Orban's view that European culture is
under an existential threat from migration and multiculturalism.
    Orban has often said NGOs are doing Soros' bidding.
    "The government is always looking for someone to fight with,
and Soros seems like a perfect person for this because he funds
NGOs in Hungary and he funds CEU as well," Klopfstein said.
     CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff has said the school would
continue operations as normal and demanded that the law be
scrapped and additional international guarantees of academic
freedoms be added to current legal safeguards.
     The U.S. State Department will send diplomats to Budapest
next week to address the CEU crisis, said Ignatieff, who spent
several days in Washington to lobby the U.S. government,
lawmakers and the media.
    "They want to completely undermine and eradicate what
remains of civil society," Bara Bognar, a 40-year-old finance
professional, told Reuters. "This is the first protest I have
ever participated in. There is a level at which you must be
present, so here I am."
    "The method, the lack of dialogue, the efforts for years to
annihilate all democratic institutions, this cannot be the
future of us nor our children."

 (Editing by Hugh Lawson and Sandra Maler)
 ((marton.dunai@tr.com; +36-1-327-4742; https://twitter.com/mdunai;
 Reuters Messaging:
marton.dunai.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: HUNGARY SOROS/PROTEST (UPDATE 1, TV, PIX)


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