Hungarians protest against Constitution, austerity

About 7,000 people protested against what they call "one-party Constitution”.

Budapest: Thousands of protesters demonstrated here on Saturday against Hungary`s controversial new Constitution, to be voted in Parliament on Monday, as well as government austerity measures.

About 7,000 people gathered at a rally near Parliament in Budapest, organised by the Hungarian Democratic Charter, an NGO close to the opposition Socialists and headed by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, to protest against what they call the "one-party Constitution”.

"We want to protest this Constitution. We have not authorised this government to draft this Constitution," Gyurcsany said before the event, which brought together an older crowd, carrying banners and waving the Hungarian flag.

The text is being pushed through by the ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"We see no chance (for our cause) to succeed in the short term... but at one point we will be strong enough to change," Gyurcsany added.

Other speakers at the rally argued the new "Orban Constitution”, as it has been dubbed by the press, violated basic freedoms and was just a means for the prime minister to establish his power and that of his party.

Ranging from feminists and rights organisations like Amnesty International to gay and lesbian NGOs, they vented their anger at the text, which they slammed as discriminative and anti-democratic in its making.

Orban has argued that the current Constitution is based on a Soviet model to explain the need for a new text.

But this has been met by a wave of protests ahead of the Parliament vote on Monday.

"At this moment, nothing explains the urge to draft a new Constitution but the hunger for power," Balazs Denes, speaker of the civil rights watchdog Civil Liberties Union, told another demonstration on Friday night.

The Venice Commission, the constitutional law advisory body of the European Union, also criticised the draft on March 28 for the lack of transparency in its drafting process and for curbing the constitutional court`s scope of action.

Despite the protests, Orban`s text is nevertheless almost assured of going through Parliament on Monday thanks to Fidesz`s two-thirds majority of seats.

President Pal Schmitt is due to sign the document on April 25, so that it can enter into force on January 01, 2012.

At a separate demonstration on Saturday, a crowd of police officers, service men, firefighters and prison and customs guards gathered at Budapest`s Heroes` Square to protest against austerity measures that will bring an end to their last privilege, early retirement.

Whistling, chanting and playing drums, they marched along Andrassy avenue towards Parliament, with some of the firefighters opening fire hydrants and flooding the streets along the way.

Organisers estimated that 15,000 protesters joined the march, which ended without violence.

Bureau Report

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