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Budapest Art Students End Sit-In As Hungary Goes Into Coronavirus Lockdown

A student of the University of Theater and Film Arts is seen in front of the building on November 10 at a press conference in Budapest.
A student of the University of Theater and Film Arts is seen in front of the building on November 10 at a press conference in Budapest.

Hungary has announced a partial lockdown as a sharp spike in new coronavirus infections has prompted right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to move away from his previous policy of avoiding serious restrictions to protect the economy.

Hungary reported 103 new COVID-19 deaths on November 10, nearing the record of 107 set on November 7.

The new restrictions from November 11 include a curfew between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. local time, a ban on public gatherings, and the closure of secondary schools.

Because of the lockdown, students and faculty of the Budapest University of Theater and Film Arts (SZFE) decided to end a 71-day occupation of university buildings in protest at a move by Orban to end the school's autonomy.

"Since our demands are still not met and talks with the Education Ministry have not begun despite our efforts, we are not giving up the blockade, but are taking it with us," student spokeswoman Panni Szurdi said. "We will keep on going with the resistance outside of the buildings for now."

"This is about us acting as responsible citizens," student Dora Galosi told RFE/RL. "This is a decision we had to make given that there is a situation in our country, a pandemic, that is more important than us being inside the buildings. We can come up with different ways to protest."

Students, Artists Protest Government's Takeover Of Famed Hungarian Film School
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Under Orban's reform, administrative matters that were previously the purview of an elected senate are now handled by a board of trustees comprising people connected to the Orban government.

Students and faculty declared the new board illegitimate and began the occupation in early September.

The populist Orban has been criticized by the United States, the European Union, and rights activists for undermining democratic institutions, including elections, the press, and academic freedom.

The respected Central European University, partially funded by Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros, closed down most of its operations in Hungary in 2018 following a campaign of attacks against it by members of Orban's Fidesz party.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on November 10, Hungary had recorded 114,778 coronavirus infections and 2,493 deaths since the pandemic began.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa
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