Hungarian protesters hit out at Orban's 'move towards Russia'

A protester holds up a placard showing Hungarian PM Viktor Orban as a soccer player that says 'Game over!' as several thousands people protest in front of the Hungarian National Opera in Budapest, January 2, 2015 (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)

Budapest (AFP) - Thousands of Hungarians protested Friday at what they see as the country's move towards Russia in the latest demonstration against the government of controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The crowd, estimated to be over 5,000 by an AFP photographer, brandished placards condemning Orban, whose support suffered a plunge in polls at the end of 2014 despite securing three election wins earlier in the year.

The demonstrators, who gathered in front of the Budapest opera house, voiced concern over what they see as Hungary drifting away from the West to forge closer ties with its former Communist ruler.

"It is disturbing to see that the Orban government is exposing Hungary to Russian influence," Robert Gombkoto, a 61-year-old manager, told AFP, citing a 10 billion euro ($12 billion) loan from Russia to Hungary to expanding a nuclear plant.

Others spoke of concern over the government's policy of centralisation in education and public administration.

"In all aspects of our lives, we fear the return of a centralised system similar to the one under communism, which my generation struggled against," Eva Bari, 53, a teacher, told AFP.

Protesters also expressed anger at the political elite, accusing them of failing to take Hungary forwards in the quarter of a century since the fall of communism.

"We condemn the parties of the last 25 years... We cannot expect the state to think for us," Zsolt Varady, one of the organisers, told the crowd.

Demonstrations have been taking place in Hungary since October when Orban's government proposed a tax on Internet usage. The idea was later scrapped.

But demonstrations against corruption and seeking to highlight concerns that Orban is cosying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, have kept the pressure up on the all-powerful rightwing leader.

Organisers have called another protest for February 1, the day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Budapest.