Protesters, police clash in Hungary for third straight night

Protesters threw bottles and smokebombs at riot police who responded with tear gas. (AFP pic)

BUDAPEST: Anti-government demonstrations in Budapest on Friday ended in clashes for a consecutive third night between police and protesters angry at Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s controversial new laws on workers rights and the judicial system.

Some of the 2,000 protesters outside the Hungarian parliament threw bottles and smokebombs at riot police who responded with tear gas.

During this week’s disturbances, the most violent in Hungary for over a decade, police said more than 50 people had been arrested and at least 14 police injured.

Demonstrators also marched along main roads and across bridges temporarily blocking traffic.

“Orban get lost! Viktator! Viktator!” they shouted.

The unrest was sparked after opposition parties blew sirens and whistles inside parliament Wednesday in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the adoption of two controversial bills.

A labour code change dubbed the ‘slave law’ by its critics hikes the maximum annual overtime hours for workers and extends the time period for calculating and paying overtime to three years.

Trade unions say the changes were made at the behest of large international manufacturing companies and could expose workers to exploitation as well as delay overtime payments.

According to the government, the law will benefit both those wanting to work more hours and employers who need more manpower as the economy struggles with labour shortages.

Also passed by parliament, which is dominated by Orban’s ruling party, was a bill paving the way for new “administrative courts” to oversee public administration cases like public procurements or election procedures.

The justice minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, a close Orban ally, would oversee the courts, leading some to warn of near-total political influence over the judicial system.

Anger over the legislation has prompted opposition parties across the spectrum, who accuse Orban and his ruling Fidesz party of steering Hungary toward authoritarianism, to join forces during the protests.

A fourth demonstration will take place on Sunday in Budapest that trade unions say they will join.

Pro-government public and commercial media have portrayed the protesters as anarchists and “mercenaries of George Soros”.

The Hungarian-born US billionaire Soros has long been accused by Orban of plotting to import migrants into Europe and destabilise Hungary.