Hungary protesters target broadcaster

Protesters during the rally held against the government in front of the headquarters of the public broadcaster MTVA in Budapest, Hungary (17 December 2018)Image copyright

Hungary’s public broadcaster MTVA has become the latest target of demonstrators angry at the government’s controversial new labour law.

Protesters took to the streets for the fifth consecutive day to object to what they call “slave laws”.

Earlier two independent MPs were thrown out of MTVA’s headquarters after they tried to broadcast a petition against the measures.

Since they were forcibly ejected other opposition MPs have taken their places.

New rules mean companies can demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for it for three years, though that is disputed by an MEP from the governing party.

At least 10,000 people rallied in Budapest on Sunday – a rare large-scale anti-government demonstration in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies enjoy widespread support, despite repeated condemnation from other EU nations.

The government says the labour reform will benefit workers as well as companies who need to fill a labour shortage.

In a video shot by a local activist, the two MPs thrown out of the TV station could be heard shouting in protest at security guards during the scuffle.

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Media captionAn MP broadcast a livestream of the confrontation

As well as opposing the new labour law, protesters are also calling for an independent judiciary, independent public media, and for Hungary to join the EU Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The protests have been led by trade unionists and students, though flags from Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party as well as anti-establishment Guy Fawkes masks could also be seen in images from Monday evening’s protests.

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In elections earlier this year, the prime minister’s Fidesz party won a two-thirds majority in parliament, making it relatively easy to enact his policies.

Why does the government say reforms are needed?

The government says the laws address a serious labour shortage. The country’s unemployment rate, at 4.2% in 2017, is one of the lowest in the EU.

Hungary’s population has been in decline for years, as deaths outpace births, according to the European statistics agency.

Hungary is also experiencing a “brain drain” as well-educated people take advantage of free movement within Europe. The problem is serious enough to have prompted a 2015 programme to encourage young people to return home, offering housing and employment support.

Fidesz MEP Gyorgy Schopflin told the BBC the reforms had been “heavily distorted by the opposition”.

There was “no coercion” involved in working overtime, and workers would be “paid monthly, not in three years”, he said.

The governing Fidesz party has said the protests are the work of foreign mercenaries paid by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros.

Mr Soros denies this, and says the Hungarian authorities are using him as a scapegoat.

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