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Hungary: Opposition seeks repeal of law about US university

Hungarian opposition lawmakers on Friday asked the country's Constitutional Court to repeal legal amendments they say target Central European University, founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

The appeal seeks to strike down changes to Hungary's higher education law approved two weeks ago that critics also said limit academic freedom.

"We expect the Constitutional Court to do its job and block the government from hindering a national university," said Bernadett Szel, from the green party Politics Can Be Different, who filed the appeal signed by a wide range of opposition lawmakers.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the Budapest school Soros founded is "cheating" because it issues diplomas accepted both in the United States and in Hungary, where it has been operating since 1993. The university is accredited in New York state, but has no campus there.

Orban said this gives CEU an unfair advantage over other Hungarian universities, but denied that the government wants to shut it down.

"I have seen a lot disinformation ... and the point is that Central European University is not under any danger," Orban said Friday during an official visit in Tbilisi, Georgia. He added that the university will "operate in the future, also."

During his visit, Orban was expected to meet Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, a CEU alumnus.

The recent amendments would force CEU to establish a U.S. campus and condition its operations in Hungary on a bilateral deal between Hungary and the U.S.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns about the amendments, but says the Orban government should settle the matter with the university.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 11 U.S. senators led by Chris Murphy, D-Conn., sent a letter to Orban advocating for CEU. Others signatories included Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dianne Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York.

"We fear that this legislation puts at risk academic institutions and academic freedom in Hungary," the senators said.

The dispute about CEU is part of a wider government campaign against Soros, who Orban says is working against Hungarian interests because of his support for migration, which Orban staunchly opposes.

A law expected to be passed in May would force all non-governmental groups receiving more than about $24,600 a year from abroad to register with the courts and identify themselves on their websites and publications as being foreign-funded. Failure to comply could lead to fines or termination of the groups.

The government says NGOs which receive funds from Soros' Open Society Foundations, like the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights advocate, and corruption watchdog Transparency International, are part of a network of "foreign agents" seeking to influence Hungarian politics.

Top European Commission officials will meet with Soros in Brussels next week to discuss the political situation in Hungary and CEU. Soros will be received by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

The encounters come ahead of a weekend summit when Juncker and other leading officials of the EPP Christian Democrat group will be meeting with Orban, whom they have already criticized on the CEU issue.


Sophiko Megrelidze in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Raf Casert in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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