Hungarians protest against new teachers' law, police violence

By Boldizsar Gyori

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Thousands of Hungarians rallied in Budapest on Friday to protest against new legislation that would eliminate the public servant status of teachers, as well as police tear-gassing of teenagers during a previous demonstration.

In power since 2010, conservative nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has faced increasing public protests as he has clashed with the European Union over democratic standards, curbed independent media, academics and judges and cracked down on the rights of migrants and LGBT people.

Friday's protest came after a series of rallies and strikes for higher salaries and better working conditions for teachers. Hungary's inflation rate - now running at 24% - has eroded teacher wages that were already below the national average and rank second to last among OECD countries according to 2021 data.

Protesters on Friday marched against the new so-called Status Law that would also significantly increase teachers' workload. Critics refer to the legislation as the "Revenge Law," perceived as punishment for teachers' year-long resistance.

Orban's government said the bill aimed to improve the quality of education. Almost 5,000 teachers have already said they will leave their profession if the Status Law comes into force.

Street protests over the past year have been peaceful except for one early this month when police tear-gassed some teenagers in a pro-teacher rally as they tried to get closer to Orban's offices, surrounded by construction fences since 2020.

Police said they targeted protesters who were breaking up construction barriers and pelting policemen with debris.

"For many people, many students, this will be a defining moment when today's powers showed their teeth and didn't bother anymore with appearing democratic," Mate Hidasz, 17, a student tear-gassed at the previous rally, said on Friday.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori, editing by Mark Heinrich)