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Hungary and EU Attempt to Find Accord in Dispute

  • Stefan Bos

A Hungarian protestor covers her mouth with a mask during a protest in support of the largest opposition radio station 'Klub Radio', which recently lost its radio frequency in Budapest, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012.

A Hungarian protestor covers her mouth with a mask during a protest in support of the largest opposition radio station 'Klub Radio', which recently lost its radio frequency in Budapest, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012.

About 10,000 people demonstrated in the Hungarian capital in support of an opposition radio station that is being taken off the air by the government, amid a showdown with the European Union. The protest followed a pro-government march that drew 100,000 people a day earlier.

The protesters marched Sunday in Budapest carrying placards saying "Down with censorship." Opposition station, Klubradio, is due to go off the air March 1, after Hungary's media council, stacked with allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, pulled its frequency late last year.

Controversial laws setting up the media council drew international criticism, and the European Commission wrote to Hungary last week to express new concerns about press freedom and pluralism, citing the case of Klubradio.

Adding to the pressure the European executive has launched legal action against Hungary over contested reforms of its judiciary, central bank and data protection authority. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is to travel Tuesday to Brussels to meet Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to discuss the dispute.

On Saturday about 100,000 supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban marched to the parliament building to protest the EU criticism .

Some marchers carried pictures of Mr. Orban, others slogans such as "we don't want to be a colony" as well as Hungarian flags.

Among those demonstrators was a somewhat out-of-tune singing artist who had a message to the international community. She said "Hungary stood up against the world, but now we are under attack.

On Friday, before the rally, Mr. Orban pledged to change the contested legislation to avoid deepening the rift with the European Union.

The Orban government is seeking as much as $26 billion in financial assistance from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, although Mr. Orban tried to play down the request when speaking to reporters.

"But I would like to say clearly that what we need is just precautionary. It is very important otherwise, you know, [there will be the] accusation which is going on among the European citizens like in [the case of] Greece, that the Germans feel that they finance something, which does not make the necessary efforts to help himself. You know, I would not like to get that picture on Hungary," he said.

The prime minister adds the loan is aimed to make Hungary strong again on the market, after several rating agencies downgraded the country's debt to “junk” amid concerns over the political and economic situation in the country.

The IMF and European Commission have made clear that talks on assistance may only resume if key Central Bank and other legislation has been changed.

And with European officials also concerned about pressure on media and churches, more debates, and demonstrations, are expected.

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