By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of Hungarians demonstrated on New Years Eve against "the end of democracy" ahead of a new constitution and restrictive church law which will be enforced Sunday, January 1.
Standing in front of the parliament building in Budapest, they pledged an oath to the "Republic of Hungary", as the word 'republic' will be scrapped in the new constitution that critics say enforces power of the government of all previously independent institutions, ranging from religion and media to the courts and even Central Bank.
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They also launched the "Clean Hands" movement to tackle the birth of an "authoritarian" state.
Among those participating was Pastor Gábor Iványi, the president of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (HEF), an umbrella group of evangelical groups and churches.
At an earlier demonstration Iványi expressed concerns over the European Union's most restrictive church law, which is introduced together with the constitution, limiting the number of faith groups recognized, and supported, by the state.
Under the 'Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community' only 14 of the 358 faith groups in Hungary will be granted formal recognition on New Year's Day to operate as churches. Those recognized include "traditional" Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Orthodox Churches as well as some Jewish groups.
Newer evangelical churches as well as Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu religious groups, will have the opportunity to apply for recognition in parliament if they are 100 years old or operate for at least 20 years in Hungary. "This is dictatorship," Iványi said.
Others attending Saturday's rally included journalist Balázs Nagy Navarro, who was fired at the state broadcaster for supporting a hunger strike for more press freedom, and writers and philosophers .
Journalists have complained about alleged government interference in news programs.
Under a new law, a government backed authority enforces "balanced coverage" and other restrictive meassures.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed "deep concerns" in a letter to the government leaked this week, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso, is worried about new financial legislation, including a Central Bank law that increases the influence of the government over the institution.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has rejected the criticism saying that "nobody in the world" can tell elected Hungarian legislators what to do.
Two critical independent networks, ATV and Klubrádió said "several thousand" people participated in Saturday's rally. Budapest-based Klubrádió has been told by the media authority its license will not be extended next year.