(Vatican Radio) A key U.S. official is meeting with Hungary's government after some 70,000 people rallied in Budapest against new legislation that they fear will force the closure of the famed Central European University (CEU) founded by American billionaire George Soros. The university is among several institutions and groups targeted by hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who views them as a threat to his declared "illiberal" policies.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Tens of thousands of protesters, many of them students and professors, marched to the Hungarian Parliament into the early hours of the morning.
They asked Hungarian President János Áder not to sign a new education law which was rushed through parliament on Tuesday. The legislation will require the Budapest-based CEU to change its name and open a campus in the United States.
It also calls for binding agreements about the University between Hungary and the United States.
Hungary's effort to close the CEU is seen by critics as another step in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's plan to transform the country into an "illiberal state" and he has mentioned Russia and Turkey as models.
It is a narrower view of democracy which contrasts with the "open society" ideals promoted by Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros who founded the Central European University in 1991 to aid the country's transition from Communism to democracy.
The Central European University has more than 1400 students from 108 countries and views itself as a champion of free speech.
Protest organizer Kornel Klopfstein isn't surprised that the CEU is targeted by the government. "The current Hungarian government wants to silence pretty much everyone who thinks otherwise, who doesn't think the same as them, who thinks freely," he said.
Ironically the prime minister won a scholarship as a young man sponsored by Soros to study at Oxford university. And they were allies in the days immediately following the fall of communism.
But that has changed with Orbán accusing Soros and other groups of intervening in Hungary's domestic affairs.
Relations between Soros and Orbán - a keen supporter of the US president - also became strained when Orbán accused him of wanting a role in Hungarian politics and supporting the influx of migrants into Europe.
Orbán recently claimed Hungary was "under siege" from asylum seekers.
On Monday the United Nations refugee agency urged European Union countries to suspend returning asylum seekers to Hungary citing is mandatory detentions, including in container camps.
Though Orbán is a supporter of the US president Donald Trump, Washington has expressed concerns about the developments in Hungary.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Yee was meeting with government officials, in part to discuss the CEU. Yee was also expected to talk with University officials.