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Hungary's Election Authority Approves Bid To Hold Referendum On Chinese University

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony
Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony

Hungary's election authority has approved a bid to hold a referendum over the planned construction of a Chinese university in Budapest, the mayor of the Hungarian capital said on August 30.

Mayor Gergely Karacsony said on Facebook that the National Election Committee (NVB) had approved his referendum question.

Karacsony said a drive to collect 200,000 signatures required to trigger the referendum process will begin next month if the NVB's decision is not challenged in court.

Citizens will be asked if they wish to repeal a law adopted earlier this year by parliament, which is dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing Fidesz party, that gave a green light to the plan.

The plan advanced further in June when Fidesz lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to donate several plots along the Danube River to the Fudan Hungary University Foundation to build the university.

The decision to build the campus by 2024 using a $1.5 billion loan from a Chinese bank has raised concerns about the long-term impact of such a project on the country's higher-education system. There have been demonstrations in the streets of Budapest voicing criticism that the government is getting overly cozy with Beijing.

The government has argued that having a campus of the Fudan University would allow Hungarian and international students to acquire high-quality qualifications.

But critics, including Karacsony, fear a lack of transparency and academic freedom.

Karacsony, 46, plans to challenge Orban in an election early next year.

The 58-year-old prime minister, in power since 2010, backs the project. But he appeared to bow to the mounting clamor for a referendum in June, saying it should happen only after the project's final plans are made public by the end of 2022.

Based on reporting by AFP

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