More than 100,000 people rallied on Saturday in a show of support for the embattled Hungarian government, as it prepares to compromise in a bitter row with the European Union to secure a vital loan.
Labelled a March of Peace the demonstration was by far the largest rally since the government took power in May 2010, in what analysts said was a reminder that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party remains a potent political force.
Orban's centre-right government, accused by Brussels of threatening the independence of the media, judiciary and central bank, backed down earlier this week, aiming to prop up its battered forint currency and keep access to financial markets.
The government has said it will work out details of necessary legal changes by Monday after the European Commission started infringement procedures in the three areas, saying Budapest's new laws failed to comply with EU rules.
Orban is travelling to Brussels on Tuesday to try to hammer out a political agreement with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in order to be able to start formal talks with the EU and International Monetary Fund about a loan deal.
Amid the diplomatic wrangle and market swings the government has also seen its popular support dwindle and big demonstrations against its policies have become regular.
According to a fresh opinion poll, 84 percent of people think things are going in the wrong direction, although the opposition is fragmented and Fidesz still commands the support of about 1.5 million voters in the country of 10 million.
Those who are here, many of us also think things are not going in a good direction, Bela Petrik, a 22-year-old economy student from Budapest, said at Budapest's Heroes Square as people gathered for a march to parliament.
But these mistakes should not lead to speculative attacks that serve the interests of nobody except the speculators.
NO COLONY OF THE WEST
The organisers of the rally, billionaire Gabor Szeles, news magazine editor Andras Bencsik and others said the rally was to show Hungary would not bow to the West.
We won't be a dominion, we don't want to be a colony, Bencsik told the crowd. This is our message to those abroad. The other is we fully support Viktor Orban, and we are proud of what we achieved at the 2010 elections.
Political analyst Zoltan Kiszelly said the size of the crowd was a clear message that Fidesz was by far the strongest political force in the country.
They have shown the political left that the street does not belong to them, Kiszelly told Reuters. And they have sent a message to the government's partners abroad to stop trying to tell us what to do, the government is doing fine.
The way the Italian or the Greek governments were removed will not work in Hungary, and early elections are out of the question with this kind of public support.
Judit Marcsok, a 43-year-old homemaker from Mogyorod, said she was appalled at the tone EU politicians used in their critique of Hungary.
I was completely enraged when socialist and liberal MEP's screamed this week in Strasbourg, with veins on their necks bulging, at the Hungarian prime minister, she said. This is no way to negotiate, this is no attitude to any country.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Andrew Roche)