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EU flag removed from Hungary parliament in identity row

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(BUDAPEST) - Hungarian opposition deputies were on Wednesday stopped for the third time in two weeks from bringing the EU flag into the country's parliament as part of an ongoing tussle over European identity.

Security guards prevented the deputies from the Socialist party from entering the chamber with the flag, local media reported, just as lawmakers were blocked on Monday and last week.

"Not having the flag in the parliament goes against European values," Ildiko Bangone Borbely, one of the thwarted Socialist deputies, told AFP Wednesday.

The European Union flag had been displayed in parliament, alongside the Hungarian colours, until May when parliament president Laszlo Kover declared it unwelcome.

Kover, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said the law doesn't oblige EU members to fly it in parliament.

For his part, Orban has often attacked Brussels for interfering in Hungarian politics and criticising the avalanche of new laws introduced since he took power in 2010.

EU flags have been popular however with anti-government protesters at large demonstrations, which began in October after Orban attempted to introduce a tax on internet usage.

At the latest demonstration on Monday, attended by an estimated 25,000 people, a demonstrator holding an EU flag told AFP that he was afraid Hungary was drifting away from the bloc.

"We belong in Europe, not on the road east to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin," said Balint Farkas, a 26-year-old IT student.

Critics of the government say Hungary's cooperation with Russia in the energy sector -- including a multi-billion euro loan from Moscow to upgrade a nuclear plant and Budapest's support for the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline project -- show Orban is cosying up to Putin..

But on Wednesday Orban rejected as "nonsense" the description of Hungary as "pro-Russian".

"Our policies are pro-Hungarian," he said in a speech in Budapest.

"As a member of NATO and the European Union, Hungary will be loyal to its allies even if it disagrees with certain measures," he added.


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