Protesters reject Hungary’s closer links to Russia

BUDAPEST — Thousands of protesters rallied in Hungary’s capital over the weekend to oppose the government’s growing ties to Russia on the 13th anniversary of the country’s entry into the European Union.

Participants marched through downtown Sunday, carrying Hungarian and European flags, shouting ‘‘Europe! Europe!’’ and reciting slogans against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

The Momentum Movement, a new political party, organized the event.


In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hungary for the second time in two years. Critics say a draft law allegedly designed to stigmatize and intimidate civic groups that receive foreign funding is similar to a law Russia already has.

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Moscow is also expanding Hungary’s Soviet-built nuclear power plant while lending Hungary $10.9 billion, about 80 percent of the project’s cost.

Hungary already depends on Russia for much of its imported oil and gas.

A separate protest in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, drew about 400 people on Monday even though the event was officially banned and its main organizer was arrested over the weekend.

However, police stood by and allowed protesters to march through the center of the city as they called for the government to step down and for free elections to be held.


Belarus has been led since 1994 by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has suppressed his opponents.

Nikolai Statkevich, one of the most prominent figures in Belarus’s beleaguered opposition, was arrested Saturday. His wife, Maria Adamovich, said police told her he would be jailed for five days.

The rights organization Vesna said other activists were also arrested to prevent them from participating in the protest.

The protesters lit flares and carried the banned white, red, and white-striped flag that represents a free Belarus.

Statkevich ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 election and was arrested after a large demonstration protesting the results. He spent the next five years in prison.


Another former presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklyaev, said during Monday’s demonstration that ‘‘only free and fair elections can change the situation in the last dictatorship in Europe.’’