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29 Oct, 2014 07:17

100,000+ rally in Hungary over internet tax despite govt concessions (PHOTO, VIDEO)

100,000+ rally in Hungary over internet tax despite govt concessions (PHOTO, VIDEO)

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Hungary despite the government's amendment of a controversial internet tax bill. The demonstrators say the country is turning anti-democratic and drifting away from the EU.

The protest against the policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban reignited on Tuesday night, as an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets, reports Reuters. The demonstration follows similar action on the weekend, at which protesters demanded that legislation imposing a tax on internet traffic be withdrawn within 48 hours.

Instead, the government introduced an amendment on Monday that caps the proposed tax at 700 forints ($3) per month for individuals and 5,000 forints ($21) for companies. This wasn’t enough for the protesters, who accuse the government of authoritarian trends.

Since taking power in 2010, Orban's center-right government has imposed taxes on the banking, retail, energy and telecommunications sector. The measures are designed to keep the budget deficit in check, but have hurt some foreign investors' profits.

People hold up their mobile phones as they protest against a new tax on Internet data transfers in the centre of Budapest, October 28, 2014. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)

The PM's Fidesz party scored a landslide victory in this month's municipal elections, while left-wing parties performed poorly, failing to produce a joint candidate to spearhead their campaign.

The people behind the protests, however, are evidently not among Orban's supporters, as they were demanding his ouster during the latest rally. The crowd organized by a Facebook-based social network, which appeared to be composed of well-heeled professionals, marched through central Budapest carrying slogans like “How many times do you want to skin us?"

"I am a student, my parents are not well off, neither am I, so I work hard," Ildiko Pirk, a 22-year-old studying nursing, told Reuters. "I doubt the internet companies will build this tax into their prices. And I have a computer, a smartphone, as does my mother and my four siblings... That adds up."

"Free country, free internet" shout protesters demo against internet tax #Hungary. Banner "Power fears knowledge" pic.twitter.com/WuEbIDtv28

— Anonymous (@YourAnonGlobal) October 28, 2014

She said the internet was vital for her to read unbiased news not under the control of Hungary's ruling political elite. The rallying cry that taxing the internet taz was anti-democratic was strong among many protesters.

The Hungarian government denies accusations of authoritarianism. It insists the new tax compensates for the loss of taxes in other sectors of telecommunications, such as already-taxed telephony and text messages, as people switch to internet-based services.

The mistrust towards the government was fueled recently by the US, which imposed travel bans against a handful of Hungarian individuals. Washington has “credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption,” the US Embassy in Budapest said in a statement.

The Hungarian government was apparently taken by surprise with the move and requested the US to provide evidence of the alleged wrongdoing.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians march across the Elisabeth Bridge during a protest against new tax on Internet data transfers in centre of Budapest, October 28, 2014. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)

Another accusation against Orban's government is that his policies are drawing Hungary further away from other European Union members. This is true in so far as Hungary is a vocal opponent of sanctions against Russia, currently a key EU policy. The prime minister criticized the sanctions, saying they hurt Europeans more than they hurt Moscow, and pledged to lobby for their abolition.

The sanctions were imposed over Russia's position in the Ukrainian crisis, which started almost exactly a year ago with street protests not unlike those unfolding in Budapest now. In November 2013, Ukrainians took to the streets after the Ukrainian government postponed an integration deal with the EU.

The Kiev protests lasted months, escalated into street battles, an eventual ousting of the government in an armed coup and a civil war in the east of the country. These events were cheered by the US and the EU, but harshly criticized by Moscow, which viewed the events in Ukraine as foreign-orchestrated regime change.