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Hungary's 'way of life' at stake in vote: Orban

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Budapest (AFP)

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told around 100,000 supporters gathered in Budapest on Thursday that Hungary's "way of life will lose its meaning" if his opponents win the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Orban told the rally, a show of strength ahead of the April 8 vote, that he was the defender of "millions with national feeling" against the "globalist elite".

He repeated his key campaign themes in attacking international NGOs and US billionaire George Soros -- whom he accuses of meddling in Hungarian politics -- as well as his vehement opposition to immigration.

"Large western European countries bit by bit are losing their own countries, they want to force us to do the same," he told the crowd.

"Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us."

He added: "We will take moral, legal and political revenge after the elections" on opponents, in what some opposition politicians have interpreted as a threat.

Another 10,000 people gathered for a counter-demonstration, according to an estimate by an AFP journalist at the scene.

A further 5,000 attended a leftwing rally organised by the socialist MSZP party and former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's DK, with another 5,000 at a students' demonstration.

Despite polls consistently showing a majority of Hungarians are dissatisfied with the government, 54-year-old Orban looks firmly on course to win a third consecutive term.

But a surprise by-election defeat for Orban's ruling Fidesz party last month suggests the race may be tighter than expected, especially if turnout is high.

- 'Homeland before all' -

Critics say the charismatic strongman has eroded democratic institutions like the independent judiciary and the media, and steered Hungary towards authoritarian one-party rule.

After he came to power in 2010, Orban placed loyalists in charge of state institutions and rewrote both the constitution and election rules, cementing his grip on power.

His second four-year term has been dominated by nationalistic and anti-immigration campaigns that detractors say have stoked xenophobia in the central European country of 10 million.

But bolstered by an improving economy and with the opposition divided, the former student leader of demonstrations that brought down communism nearly 30 years ago still enjoys strong support among his base.

They say Orban defends Hungary against Soros and in his clashes with the EU, and that his reforms are cleaning up a mess left by previous Socialist-led governments.

Numbers at the pro-Orban "Peace March" were swelled by people brought in from outside the capital and also from Poland, which has also clashed with Brussels.

At the front of the march was a banner reading "Homeland Before All", while others carried slogans saying: "God protect Hungary and Poland from leftwing ideology!"

"This government supports the Hungarian people by helping them start families," David Magyar, a 23-year-old economics student told AFP.

"We feel safe here," said a 53-year-old business woman, who gave her name only as Gyongyi.

"There isn't a single refugee running around the streets."

- Divided opposition -

At one of the smaller counter-demonstrations, a banner of the opposition MSZP-DK read: "Down with the Christian dictatorship of Orban!"

Protester Erzsike, 74, said she was worried that opposition divisions could favour Fidesz in Hungary's voting system, which is predominantly first past the post: "Without coordination, we have no chance," she said.

Addressing the crowd, Gyurcsany admitted the splintered opposition "can only win and govern together" and announced his party was standing aside in one district to clear the way for another opposition leader.

Gabor Vona, the leader of the main far-right opposition party Jobbik, told another rally attended by around 2,000 people that his party "will bring back freedom" and emphasised his anti-corruption message.

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