Thousands rally against Hungary's 'slave-law', PM Orban

Protesters in Budapest demand PM Viktor Orban abolish controversial labour law and new 'administrative courts'.

    Thousands of Hungarians have rallied in capital Budapest demanding the abolition of the so-called "slave-law" that allows employers to demand that staff work up to 400 hours of overtime a year.

    The protesters marched in snowfall on Saturday from the historic Heroes Square in the capital to the parliament building on the bank of the Danube River, carrying banners saying "Sweep away the regime".

    "We disagree with almost everything that is going on since this government got into power [in 2010], from corruption to pseudo-democracy," Eva Demeter told Reuters news agency.

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    The 50-year-old homemaker said more Hungarians were pouring onto the streets because the slave law "affects a bigger crowd".

    Some of the protesters posted on social media or carried banners calling for a national strike.

    Hungary's government, controlled by the right-wing Fidesz party, claims the law is meant to ease a labour shortage in the country, where the official unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent.

    President Janos Ader signed the reform into law just before Christmas, despite more than 10 days of sometimes violent clashes between demonstrators and police in the capital and other cities.

    Critics say the law disadvantages workers.

    'Year of resistance'

    Al Jazeera's Mirna Brekalo, reporting from Budapest, said protesters had a wide range of demands, including the removal of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

    They "want academic freedom, they want free media, they want the abolition of the so-called 'slave law', they also want the abolition of the so-called 'administrative courts'," she said.

    In addition to the labour code reform, the Fidesz-dominated parliament also passed a law to set up a new administrative court system to rule on issues such as corruption.

    Critics say the courts could be politically manipulated as the judges are to be appointed by the justice minister.

    Brekalo said opposition parties in Hungary have called 2019 "the year of revolution, the year of resistance".

    The protests against Orban began in November when students from the Central European University (CEU) rallied against the institution's planned closure.

    The university, founded and partially funded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, said it was being forced to leave Hungary following the passage of a law that banned foreign-registered universities from operating in the country unless they also provided courses in their home countries.

    The US-registered CEU did not offer courses in the US at the time the law was passed.

    The university began operations in New York later but the Hungarian government did not view its efforts as sufficient. 

    The student-led movement protesting the CEU's closure joined demonstrations organised by trade unions and opposition parties following the new labour and court laws.

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    The anti-government protests lasted until Christmas and organisers have called for demonstrators to return to the streets following the end of the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

    Orban's Fidesz reiterated in a statement on Thursday that the protests were part of a campaign for the European Parliament elections in May to help those who support mass migration into the European Union.

    Fidesz won Hungarian elections with a landslide last year, with the ticket of resisting mass immigration into the EU.

    Since his re-election, Orban has pursued reform policies aimed at creating an "illiberal democracy".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies