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Opposition politician denied access to Putin protest site, new site arranged outside restricted area

Együtt (Together) party co-chair Péter Juhász and several colleagues were turned away by a police cordon this morning when they tried to advance toward the site of a planned protest near Parliament, Budapestbeacon.com reports. The confrontation took place at the corner of Alkotmány (Constitution) street and Bajcsy Zsilinszky street, where a police spokesman told Juhász that an order from Hungary's counter-terrorism force (TEK) required a specified area to be sealed around the Parliament ahead of the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin later today, and police would execute the order to ensure that no protest could be held within the perimeter. After negotiations, Juhász relocated the protest to the corner of Markó street and Bajcsy Zsilinsky street.

A permit for the protest, organized by Együtt in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his close relationship with the visiting Russian president, was granted by police nearly a month ago. The event was scheduled on the corner of Kossuth square and Alkotmány street, adjacent to the Parliament building. Only later did TEK announce its plans to restrict access to a large area in the 5th district near the Parliament, effectively banning any protests there. Együtt objected to TEK's plans, saying that their constitutionally protected rights to protest could not be overridden by the counter-terrorism force. Party chairman Viktor Szigetvári wrote a letter to TEK director János Hajdu, declaring that "[TEK] cannot legally do this, which is why we will definitely be there, even if they use water cannons to try and prevent us!"
TEK announced Tuesday that its actions do not constitute a ban on demonstrations, but rather "provide the opportunity to guarantee the security of protected persons." However, TEK lacks the legal authority to prevent a sanctioned protest, and physically impeding protesters would amount to the infringement of their constitutional rights. The primary role of the police, according to Hungary's Fundamental Law, is to protect the basic rights of citizens including the right to protest. This gives rise to the unusual legal paradox whereby the police are legally required to stand against TEK if the latter attempts to disrupt or prevent the protest in violation of the Fundamental Law.
Juhász arrived at the corner of Bajcsy Zsilinszky street and Alkotmány street, about 500 meters from the proposed protest site at Kossuth square outside Parliament, just before 10 this morning. He was joined by Együtt MP Szabolcs Szabó, and board members Balázs Berkecz and Márton Pataki. During a short press conference in front of a cordon of some 50 police, Juhász said the moment had come "when we will find out whether the Hungarian state observes its own laws."
"Here in my hand is the permit which the police approved for Együtt to demonstrate tonight at 6 o'clock at the corner of Alkotmány street and Kossuth square," he said. "The state guarantees that its citizens may exercise their rights. The question is...will the police and TEK guarantee the practice of our constitutional rights?"
Juhász approached the police cordon and presented the protest permit to a ranking officer, but his request to enter the restricted area was denied, the officer saying that "measures have been implemented for the day to ensure the safety of people and facilities." Juhász argued that his constitutional rights were being violated, and asked the officer whether he should call the police for assistance in exercising his rights. The officer recommended that Juhász file a complaint with the police department.
After police refused to allow Juhász onto Alkotmány street, an alternative location was ultimately negotiated for the protest, at the corner of Markó street and Bajcsy Zsilinszky street. Juhász made a short statement and called for participants to come to the new location.
"We got a permit in vain, the police approved it in vain, and TEK told us in vain that we can protest anywhere — we can't protest anywhere," Juhász said. "We are waiting for every single person...who would like to heckle Viktor Orbán. We already know that we are going to file a lawsuit in court, we're going to make a complaint, and obviously we are going to seek damages from TEK. They take care of their business without observing the law, this is how the Orbán government works today. This person, who is the Prime Minister of Hungary, has been unable to speak to any media for 10 years, he doesn't answer questions, he doesn't hear the words of citizens. We would like to send a message back that he's not a king, there aren't subjects, there are citizens whose rights he must ensure, instead he acts like a little king, like a football hooligan. He protects his own ass with the transgression of the law and the use of his own private army. It's intolerable. We would like a democracy, and Viktor Orbán is not a democrat. That's why we heckle because it's the only way we can express our opinion."

On his first trip to the European Union since the U.S. presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday visited Hungary, the nation whose leader has cozied up to Moscow despite Russia-West tensions.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist dubbed "little Putin" by his opponents, has been critical of the U.S. and of EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of Putin's visit, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the EU sanctions against Russia have failed to achieve their objective and have cost Hungary some $6.7 billion in export opportunities. He also noted what he described as the previous U.S. administration's pressure on Hungary to prevent it from warming up to Moscow.

"The whole world is noticeably holding its breath while waiting to see if there will be rapprochement ... in American-Russian relations and if so, to what depth and dimension," Szijjarto said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to mend ties with Russia, which have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. For the first time since his inauguration, Trump on Saturday had a phone call with Putin, which both the White House and the Kremlin described in strongly positive terms.

"If American pressure has been taken off European countries in terms of the sanctions — and there seems to be a good chance for this — I believe all of those who emphasized pragmatic relations and talked about the need to reevaluate the sanctions will be more courageous and that will be a new basis for debate," Szijjarto said.

Hungary has also voiced hope for better ties with Washington under Trump. Orban had criticized the Obama administration for what he described as attempts to influence Hungary's domestic policies, such as a ban on entering the U.S. for six Hungarians, including the then-head of the Hungarian tax office, because of corruption allegations.

Orban, who has faced EU criticism for building a barbed-wire fence along Hungary's borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop migrants, has a sympathetic interlocutor in Putin, who has warned that inflows of migrants could destabilize Europe.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, hailed what he described as "good personal ties" between the Russian and Hungarian leaders.

Putin last visited Hungary in February 2015, and Orban traveled to Moscow a year ago. Discussions focused on long-term supplies of Russian natural gas to Hungary and a deal to expand Hungary's Soviet-built nuclear power plant with a 10 billion-euro loan provided by Russia.

Ushakov said this time the two sides will discuss the possibility of extending prospective Russian pipelines to Hungary, as well as the Paks nuclear plant deal.

The plant, launched in the 1980s, now accounts for about 40 percent of Hungary's energy consumption and building two new reactors there will double its output, Ushakov said.

The project is still awaiting permission from the European Commission, which Ushakov said has stymied it with "quibbles."

Source: budapestbeacon.com; Associated Press

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 19:16

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