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Thousands in Budapest march against ‘slave law’ forcing overtime on workers

Thousands of protesters in Hungary braved snow and freezing temperatures on a march against Viktor Orbán’s rightwing government, denouncing harsh new legislation that has been dubbed the “slave law”.

Passed in December, it allows companies to demand that staff work up to 400 hours overtime a year – or the equivalent of an extra day a week.

Hungary’s opposition has been fractured and ineffectual as Orbán has steadily amassed power since he was elected prime minister in 2010, but the “slave law” has created a rare rallying point.

At least 10,000 people marched through Budapest, from the historic Heroes Square to the parliament building on the banks of the Danube. Many also channelled wider concerns about attacks on academia, the judiciary and media.

Some were protesting against new courts that critics say could be politically manipulated. Others, in an apparent attack on bias in state-controlled media, shouted: “The TV is lying.” Banners included slogans such as “sweep away the regime”, or called for a “national strike”.

“We disagree with almost everything that is going on since this government got into power, from corruption to pseudo-democracy,” Eva Demeter, a 50-year-old woman, told Reuters. She said more Hungarians were pouring on to the streets because the slave law “affects a bigger crowd”.

Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has widespread support, won elections with a landslide last year to seal a two-thirds majority in parliament.

His government has wrested control of previously independent institutions, and last year the European parliament voted to bring disciplinary proceedings against Hungary for putting the rule of law at risk.