Students rally in Budapest protesting against teachers' dismissals

A person with the red exclamation mark on her hand attends a protest in support of teachers fighting for higher wages, in Budapest, Hungary December 3, 2022. REUTERS/Marton Monus

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Thousands of teachers, students and parents protested in the Hungarian capital on Saturday in solidarity with teachers fired from top Budapest secondary schools for taking strike action that the government deemed unlawful.

Teachers have called for civil disobedience to demand higher wages, a solution to a deepening shortage of teachers, and the right to strike.

After a nationwide teachers' strike in January 2022, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban restricted strike action.

Several teachers from three leading Budapest secondary schools were dismissed by an order from the Interior Ministry on Wednesday for joining demonstrations and not holding classes.

Students held up banners "Hands off our teachers," and "Shame on Orban" at the rally in Budapest while some students organised a week-long 24-hour vigil at the Interior Ministry, which has responsibility for education.

"This is just psychological warfare ... but we are not in a war, I am a teacher," said Maria Nemes, a 50-year-old English teacher, who was dismissed with immediate effect this week from Karinthy Frigyes High School. After almost 20 years of teaching she earns around 600 euros a month.

Orban faces a mounting challenge as inflation is running above 20% while his government is still locked in talks with the European Union over funding frozen amid a rule-of-law dispute.

The government has said it would raise teachers' wages once the European Commission disburses EU recovery funding, with pay hikes coming over a period of 3 years.

The Interior Ministry told state news agency MTI on Wednesday that the teachers who had been fired had committed a serious breach of their obligations as public servants, and the move served the interests of students.

"These teachers have been selected randomly, you cannot see the logic really why those eight teachers ... this is a means of intimidation," said Anna Strbka, one of the students holding the vigil at the ministry.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Ros Russell)

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