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Thousands of protesters block Budapest bridge as teachers in Hungary fight for higher wages

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BUDAPEST – At least 10,000 Hungarian students, teachers and parents blocked a bridge in Budapest before filling a large square outside parliament on Wednesday in support of teachers who fought for higher wages and teachers who were fired over protest.

Teachers have launched an “I want to teach” campaign calling for civil disobedience to demand higher wages, a solution to a growing teacher shortage and the right to strike.

Wednesday’s demonstration, which began with students chaining for miles across Budapest in the morning, became the largest anti-government demonstration since the re-election of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban in April.

Protesters carrying banners reading “Don’t fire our teachers” and “For a glimpse of the future, look to the schools of the present”, crammed a bridge in Budapest close to parliament and blocked traffic amid light police presence .

“I know a lot of really cool and awesome teachers who don’t get enough money for the work and the love they put into their profession,” said Lujza Lukacs, a 14-year-old student at the blockade, who started high school last month. .

The unions had announced a nationwide teachers’ strike on Wednesday. After a nationwide teachers’ strike in January 2022, the government limited the strike action.

Last week, several teachers at a secondary school in Budapest were fired for joining the protest.

“This is completely unacceptable and absurd,” said Andras Farkas, another student at the demonstration, who criticized Orban, who studied political philosophy at Oxford, for ignoring teachers’ “cry for help”.

Orban, who was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term on April 3, faces an increasing challenge as the economy heads into recession next year, with inflation in double digits and the forint leading consecutive record lows against the euro.

The government said it would raise teachers’ wages once the European Commission releases EU rehabilitation funding to Hungary, which has been withheld amid a rule of law dispute.

Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, a high-ranking member of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, told HirTV on Monday that teachers’ wages were below average income, but strikes were not the way to resolve the issue.

“I’m sure strikes won’t help…as everyone knows that the level of wages is in no way related to the quality of education in the short term,” Kover said.

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