Hungary teachers up pressure on Orban in biggest protest in years

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Budapest (AFP)

Thousands demonstrated in Budapest Tuesday against Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policies as teachers unhappy at education sector reforms threatened to down tools unless the combative premier apologised to the "humiliated" people.

In the biggest anti-Orban rally since 2014, a crowd estimated by an AFP photographer at over 20,000 marched through the city centre to the parliament where a protest leader gave the premier an ultimatum.

"If, within 8 days by March 23, Prime Minister Viktor Orban (does) not apologise to the people humiliated during the last six years then we will call a national one-hour stop to work on March 30," Istvan Pukli, a headmaster of a prestigious Budapest high school, told the crowd.

"Life would stop in Hungary for one hour," he said, adding that two and three-hour stops would follow if the move did not have any effect.

Calling on sympathisers to do the same in their workplaces, Pukli also threatened total strike actions unless the government negotiated with teachers over their demands, which include the reversal of Orban's sweeping centralisation of schools since he came to power in 2010.

The teachers' revolt over poor working conditions and the government's tight grip on the education sector began in November and has escalated this year.

Over 10,000 people rallied in Budapest last month.

Many of the demonstrators Tuesday wore checked shirts, which have become a symbol of the protests after a former government official insulted "checked-shirt wearing" teachers last month.

The demonstration took place on one of Hungary's national days which commemorates the country's 1848 revolution against its Austrian rulers.