Hungarians rally against Orban's education reforms

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Thousands of Hungarians protested on Saturday against education reforms implemented by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which critics see as another attempt by the right-wing leader to boost his control over state institutions.

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Teachers, whose demands include a sharp reduction in teaching hours and a free choice of textbooks, were joined in the rain outside parliament by other unionized workers including miners and civil servants.

Protesters say the reforms form part of a centralization drive by Orban over the past six years that has brought state media and other public institutions under his government’s control.

Singing the national anthem, some protesters shouted “We won’t let this happen.” Others held banners saying “Don’t chase our youth away.”

“This is our last chance to ensure that our children live in a normal country getting good quality education instead of the destruction that is going on,” said Katalin Egressy, 46, who has four children.

Marta, a former English teacher and mother-of-three, said she came to protest because her children’s future was at stake.

“The situation is worsening day-by-day, the raising of mandatory hours is overburdening teachers and I don’t like the mandatory textbooks either,” she said, accompanied by her three-year-old son.

Orban’s government took control of schools from local authorities three years ago and a central body now regulates the system. It has increased teachers’ workload and implemented a new curriculum using textbooks critics say contain errors.

Teachers at a school in the northeastern town of Miskolc ignited the protests when they drew up a petition demanding the government restore schools’ autonomy. The first big protest was held in Miskolc last week.

The government responded by replacing its education state secretary and has started negotiations with teachers.

Orban’s ruling Fidesz party leads opinion polls after his tough stance on Europe’s migrant crisis bolstered his support.

His chief of staff Janos Lazar said on Thursday that there were issues to be tackled but pointed a finger at “some who want to stir political trouble.”

Reporting by Krisztina Than