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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Huge crowds back Hungarian right
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Mr Orban urged supporters to "bring a friend" to vote
Crowds estimated to number more than 500,000 people gathered in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on Saturday in support of the country's centre-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Mr Orban told the rally that victory was still possible for his ruling Fidesz party in the final round of parliamentary elections next weekend, despite a surprise defeat in the first round a week ago.

There are those who have been ensnared by scaremongers painting a nightmarish image of a country moving towards fascism

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Voters from all over the country waved Hungarian flags and wore red, white and green coloured ribbons, jamming side streets around Budapest's Kossuth Square as they gathered to hear the prime minister speak.

In a 40-minute address broadcast live on national television, Mr Orban blamed last weekend's defeat on opposition efforts to tarnish the party's image at home and abroad.

"There are those who have been ensnared by scaremongers painting a nightmarish image of a country moving towards fascism which will be thrown out of the EU," he said.

Biggest ever gathering?

Despite fears that the increasing left-right polarisation in the country would spill over into clashes between rival groups, the rally was peaceful and good-humoured.

Viktor Orban casts his vote
Orban's campaign has focused on family and nationalist values
Opposition parties had previously called on their supporters to respect the events organised by Fidesz and the far-right Justice and Life Party (MIEP), which also had a presence at the rally.

The rally's organisers claimed the crowd numbered two million, although television reports put the figure between 400,000-600,000.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe says it may still have been the biggest ever gathering in Hungarian history.

Mr Orban used much of his speech to lambaste the opposition's record in government between 1994 and 1998 and to list the achievements of his administration over the past four years.

He said a victory by the opposition Socialist Party would threaten those reforms.

However, the socialists responded by saying they intended to preserve some ruling party policies, such as student loans and family subsidies programmes.

'Love and unity'

Mr Orban urged each supporter to take at least one person with them to vote, in order to close the gap between his party - which drew 41.1% of last weekend's vote, and the Socialists, who notched up 42%.

"There has to be more of us every day," he said.

He closed his speech with a call for an atmosphere of love and unity, which has widely been seen as a move to try to calm mudslinging which has characterised much of the election campaigning.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Europe
Socialists ahead in Hungary poll
05 Apr 02 | Europe
A guide to the Hungarian election
03 Mar 00 | Europe
Hungary tackles gypsies' problems
27 Feb 01 | Europe
Hungarian PM puts football first
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Hungary
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