December 21, 2018 / 7:48 PM / 6 months ago

Thousands of Hungarians join latest rally against Orban's reforms

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Thousands of Hungarians marched to the presidential palace late on Friday to protest against reforms to the labour code as a rally led by spoof political party MKKP merged with a subsequent demonstration staged by opposition groups.

Demonstrators hold flares during a protest against a proposed new labor law, billed as the "slave law", at the Presidential Palace in Budapest, Hungary December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Passage of two laws last week backed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party angered a variety of groups.

One, dubbed by critics the “slave law”, allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime. Another would set up new courts which critics say could be politically manipulated.

MKKP’s gathering started outside Parliament, where one protester brandished a placard saying “Happy boss, gloomy Sunday”.

The Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP), launched over a decade ago as a joke, has become a semi-serious force, using ironic humour to tackle practical issues.

“I wanted to come because I consider the Dog Party to be the most serious of all in the current lineup, which is rather sad,” said student Almos Edes, 26, a university student holding a sign saying ‘We promise everything’ beneath a logo of Fidesz.

Edes was sceptical of any change being triggered by the rallies, but said he had joined to make his voice heard.

Friday’s rally also took aim at grievances including regulations that have led to the departure of the Central European University, founded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, from Budapest.

“We can finally work eight days a week. We no longer need to hassle with independent courts. Homelessness has been eliminated. Irritating foreign schools will vanish. And Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros,” said an invitation to the rally posted on Facebook.

Orban has said the protests have been partly stoked by activists paid by Soros, an accusation Soros’ Open Society Foundation has denied.

Demonstrators, subsequently joined by another rally called by opposition groups, then marched up to the presidential palace in Buda Castle, briefly blocking a bridge crossing the Danube River.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; editing by Andrew Roche and James Dalgleish

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