'All I want for Christmas is democracy': Thousands protest against Hungary's 'slave laws'

Marchers carrying signs that read “All I Want For Christmas Is Democracy” and against Prime Minister Victor Orban thronged the city’s freezing streets, in the fourth consecutive night of protest after the government approved revised rules on overtime.

The changes, made amid widespread labour shortages, increase the maximum amount of overtime workers be made to do every year from 250 to 400 hours, and triples the amount of time employers can settle payments for extra work to three years.

They have been dubbed “slave laws”.

“They don’t negotiate with anyone,” Zoli, a transport worker on the protest only identified by one name, said of the government. “They just do whatever they want. They steal everything. It’s intolerable. It cannot go on.”

Demonstrators lit flares and police responded with tear gas, as speeches in the city’s symbolic Free Press Road turned into a march toward the state television building, while other crowds blocked two roads near the Danube river.

The changes are the latest authoritarian measures to be introduced by Mr Orban, Hungary’s far-right leader who won a third term in government in April, with a large majority for his party Fidesz and its Christian Democrat ally.

In another bill passed on Wednesday, the government created a separate administrative court system to handle cases such as elections, rights to asylum and assembly, and complaints of police violence.

Rights groups warn the arrangement leaves courts at risk of political interference, because the minister of justice will be able to pick judges and decide on court budgets in the new court, with no judicial oversight.

“The fact that a politician, who is part of the executive branch, will select all judges in a court system responsible for holding the administration and the executive to account makes a mockery of the separation of powers and rule of law,” said Lydia Gall, Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Protesters on Sunday included groups from across the political spectrum.

Members of Jobbik, which began as a radical right movement but has reframed itself as a “people’s party”, were joined by trade unions, left and liberal opposition groups, and supporters of The Central European University.

The institution, founded by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, announced this month it would leave Hungary for Austria, saying it had been “chased out” by Mr Orban’s crackdowns.

The prime minister, who frames himself as a saviour of Hungary’s Christian culture, has accused the billionaire of orchestrating a campaign to bring migrants to the country. Mr Soros says he is being used as a scapegoat outsider to whip up an exclusionary nationalism.

Allies of Orban and his ruling party Fidesz accuse liberal organisations financed by Soros of financing the protests, with they frame as criminal riots.

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