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BUDAPEST, Hungary – A few thousand anti-government protesters confronted police Thursday night outside Hungary's Parliament, temporarily retreating when officers used pepper spray and tear gas to drive them back.
After marching through parts of downtown Budapest, some of the protesters returned to Kossuth Square and despite calls for the rally to remain peaceful, threw bottles and smoke bombs at officers in riot gear guarding the neo-Gothic national legislature. Police said two officers were injured.
Protesters shouted slogans against Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the rally, which was initially called to oppose recent changes to the labor code that unions and critics say will hurt workers.
"Enough of the lies, enough of Orban and enough of this filth," said Eva, a Budapest resident who did not give her last name. "We would like purity, honor and light in this country, not this shadow, this darkness."
People taking part in the protest, including many university students, also objected to the government's ouster of a university founded by financier George Soros, efforts to limit academic freedom and a perceived increase in corruption.
A similar protest was also held Wednesday night, hours after the lawmakers in Orban's Fidesz party and its small ally, the Christian Democrats, passed amendments to the labor code, including an increase in annual overtime that workers can opt into from 250 to 400 hours. Opposition lawmakers had made unsuccessful attempts to impede the vote by blowing whistles, blaring sirens and blocking access to the speaker's podium.
Gergely Gulyas, Orban's chief of staff, accused the protesters of being Soros's "kept people" and said they demonstrated "open anti-Christian hatred" during Wednesday's rally, at which 34 people were arrested. As an example, he mentioned an anti-police chant.