Tens of thousands in Orban rally in Hungary capital Budapest

Hungary March Viktor Orban

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his right-wing government marched in Budapest on Saturday in a demonstration of unity behind the populist leader's contentious policies that have led to challenges to his power both in Hungary and the European Union.

The rally was dubbed a “Peace March” and participants gathered along the western bank of the Danube River and departed across Liberty Bridge, winding through downtown Budapest toward the site of a rare public speech that Orban delivered to his supporters.

Orban painted a dark picture of what Hungarians could expect if he is defeated in a national election scheduled for next spring, expected to be the most serious challenge to his power since he took office in 2010.

Orban enumerated his government's economic achievements, and blasted Hungary's previous socialist government which he accused of leading the country to financial ruin.

“It took us years to rectify the destruction of the left wing,” Orban said. “The socialists and their leader have remained hanging around our necks.”

The march was organized by nongovernmental organization Civil Unity Forum, an active promoter of the policies of Orban's Fidesz party, which has dominated Hungary's parliament with a two-thirds majority since 2010.

The group's chairman, Laszlo Csizmadia, told The Associated Press before the march departed that the event was meant to demonstrate Hungary's sovereignty to the EU, which he said had “undeservedly” attacked Hungary in recent attempts to reign in what the bloc sees as democratic backsliding.

“We think that we have a right to state our opinions in the long term in the European Union," Csizmadia said.

Orban also took aim at the EU, saying that Brussels had conducted a sustained attack on Hungary over its economic and immigration policies that have put his government at odds with the bloc's leaders.

“Dozens of prime ministers have attacked Hungary. We are still here, but who can remember even their names?” he said.

Laszlo Csendes came to the march from Veszprem, a city 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of Budapest. He said Orban's performance since 2010 had led to Hungarians “prospering