Tens of thousands rally behind Orban critic in Hungary

Magyar denounced what he said was widespread corruption and the lack of meaningful political dialogue (FERENC ISZA)
Magyar denounced what he said was widespread corruption and the lack of meaningful political dialogue (FERENC ISZA)

Tens of thousands of people rallied behind an emerging critic of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in central Budapest on Friday, as politicians gave fiery speeches for Hungary's national day.

In the wake of a child abuse pardon scandal that has shaken Orban's government, former government insider Peter Magyar has shot to prominence.

"The majority of the Hungarian people have lost confidence in the entire political elite," Magyar told a cheering crowd.

He vowed to form "a political force that all well-meaning Hungarians who want to work for their country can join".

Magyar -- former husband of former justice minister and Orban ally Judit Varga -- also criticised what he said was widespread corruption and a lack of meaningful political dialogue.

In the audience, Lorinc Popovics said he hoped that Magyar, 42, would "clean up the country.

"We came here because we want a better new world for our grandchildren, and now maybe there is a glimmer of hope," the 71-year-old sculptor told AFP.

Entrepreneur Bence Melherm, 36, said he joined the rally in support of making Hungary like other European countries "in terms of its laws and spirit".

A poll by Hungarian institute Median conducted last week suggested that around nine percent would vote for Magyar, which would make any party he formed potentially the strongest opposition party.

Earlier Friday, Orban -- who has led the country since 2010 -- renewed his attacks on Brussels and the opposition in his national day speech, ahead of EU elections in June.

Envisioning a "watershed year", the nationalist leader, 60, said this year's European and US elections would bring about a "sovereign revolution".

He told the tens of thousands of people gathered for his speech: "At the beginning of the year we were alone, by the end of the year we will be the majority in the Western world."

Orban is facing the biggest political crisis of his 14-year premiership after it emerged last month that a man convicted in a child sex abuse case had been granted a presidential pardon and released from jail.

Since returning to lead the EU members state, Orban has moved to curb press freedom and made other changes to tighten his grip on power, often clashing with Brussels over rule-of-law issues.