Hungary slams, Croatia mulls EU

Hungary slams, Croatia mulls EU

Hungary slams, Croatia mulls EU

More than 100.000 people attend a pro-government rally in Budapest on Jan. 21. Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic (inset) casts his ballot during a referendum on joining the European Union in Zagreb yesterday. REUTERS photo

Around 100,000 people rallied in Budapest on Jan. 21 to support Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has come under heavy criticism from the European Union for laws seen as curbing democracy.

The demonstration was organized by journalists close to Orban’s ruling center-right Fidesz party to show it could still rally the masses. Marchers carried Hungarian flags, candles, torches and signs expressing their support for Orban, while many sang patriotic and folk songs, including the national anthem, as they made their way along the nearly four-kilometer route.

One sign compared Hungary’s long history with the relatively young age of its critics: “EU, 55; IMF, 67; U.S., 236; Hungary 1,116.” Others said “Viktor is our man” and “Justice for Hungary!” A statement from the Interior Ministry described the event as “the largest pro-government demonstration in memory,” estimating the crowd at nearly 400,000 people.

Hungary has in recent weeks come under fire from the European Union, the United States and other international bodies over its constitutional reforms, which came into effect Jan. 1. Particularly contentious are new rules that critics say threaten Hungary’s system of checks and balances, jeopardize religious safeguards and rig the electoral system in Orban’s favor, while also curbing press freedoms.

Croatia will not lose its sovereignty’

The European Commission has given Hungary a month to change some of its controversial laws, including those related to the independence of the central bank. These laws have impeded talks over a $25 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Orban has said he is willing to modify some new laws, and the prime minister is set to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso tomorrow to further discuss the issue.

Elsewhere on the continent, Croatia held a referendum yesterday on whether to join the European Union in 2013, with its leaders making clear the small Adriatic country has no better option despite the economic turmoil in the bloc.

Opinion polls suggest the vote will pass, with the last one, released Jan. 20, putting support at 61 percent. But some Croats fear a loss of sovereignty if the country joins now, after just two decades as an independent state. “Croatia will not lose its sovereignty or natural resources, nor will it be ruled by the EU,” President Ivo Josipovic said in a written statement to the nation Jan. 20.

The former Yugoslav republic signed an EU accession treaty in December that paved the way for its accession to the bloc next year. The European Union has said Croatia can become its 28th member on July 1, 2013, after completing seven years of tough entry talks in June last year. It would become the second former Yugoslav republic to join, following Slovenia in 2004.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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